PRINCETON – Another in a series of Bureau County Zoning Board of Appeals hearings took place Monday night on whether to allow permits for a wind farm.
The zoning board is being asked to recommend 127 conditional use permits, 44 variations and an extension on the installation of a substation, staging area, 99 power poles and a transmission line to Walnut Ridge Wind Ridge, LLC, a BHE Renewables company. Walnut Ridge wants to develop a 225 megawatt wind farm, with approximately 123 wind turbines spanning around 14,000 acres. The turbines will be placed on ag land south of Walnut.
According to a project summary provide to the Bureau County zoning officer and a project overview provide by BHE Renewables, the WRW will create jobs, tax money and a community fund during its 20 year life span.
An economic impact report mentions 735 new local jobs during the construction for Bureau County alone, and 961 for the state. The report stated this would equal more than $35 million in local earnings for Bureau County and more than $61.7 million for the state of Illinois.
A later project overview, provided by BHE Renewables, approximates the number of temporary jobs to 200. BHE Renewables said they will work with both local and nationally construction companies during the project.
No earnings figures were mentioned on the overview.
The economic impact report sites the possibility of 40 new Bureau County jobs and 48 State of Illinois jobs that would be created for the long term. This equaled out, according to the report, as over $1.7 million in Bureau County earnings, and over $3.1 in local state long-term earnings.
The BHE Renewables overview estimates that number at 12 permanent full time jobs. No earning figures were reported on the overview.
The impact report figured on monetary outputs during construction as more than $96.1 million locally for Bureau County, over $142.3 million during construction locally for the state, more than $6.3 million in long-term Bureau County output, and more than $9.6 million locally for the state.
No monetary output data was provided on the overview by BHE Renewables.
Tax money, which will go to Bureau County, Bureau Valley and Ohio school districts, fire districts and townships, was figured by the economic impact study at $1.5 million with the assumed 225 megawatt output.
The BHE Renewables project overview put that number significantly higher, at $2.3 million for the first year, but did stipulate the figure would decline as the turbines aged.
The project has a 20-year life expectancy before the turbines would be decommissioned.
Participating land owners would receive, in total, approximately $1.25 million per year. This figure is provided by both the impact report and the provided summary, with the impact report putting the figure in a range from $1.1 million to $1.4 million annually.
BHE Renewables’ overview also discussed the Walnut Ridge Community Fund. This organization is established by BHE Renewables to support charitable activities and opportunities in near the WCW.
BHE will contribute up to $42,000 per year to the fund, according to the overview.
The hearings will continue tonight.
A bit of history: A conditional use permit for this project was approved in 2008, and extended in 2011.
While the pros provided for the WCW were tangible job and dollar amounts, the cons of the project are more subjective, but also more personal to landowners surrounding and in the middle of the projected footprint.
“What happens at a turbine doesn’t stay at turbine,” said Anna Donnelly of rural Walnut.
Donnelly said the noise, shadow flicker, blinking lights and low frequency noise vibrations can all travel far in the open country. Donnelly also said that the tall wind turbines destroy her scenic views, and endanger the wildlife population near her home.
Donnelly lives about 1,500 feet from a current Blue Sky wind turbine and says that all of the issues described can be seen from her home currently.
While Donnelly’s house sits outside of the WCW footprint, she does owner property inside the footprint that is used by her, family, and friends for recreation. Donnelly said she is not sure what the impact of the 500 foot tall WCW turbines would be on her ability to enjoy her land.
Another nearby resident of the proposed wind farm is Kurt Geldran of rural Walnut.
Geldran said at the hearing that he would have approximately five turbines within a mile of his house, and another 15 turbines within two miles.
Geldran is a pilot with a conditional use permitted landing strip near his home. He testified at the hearing that the proposed wind turbines would make it unsafe for him to take off and land his Cesna 172 plane near his home.
He also had planned to create a fly-in bed and breakfast in the future, and is uncertain that would be a possibility with the unsafe conditions he feels would be created by the close proximity of the turbines, including possible wind turbulence produced above and around the turbine.
Geldran also discussed the sound and visual annoyances from the turbines. He said he currently has no curtains on the windows of his home so he can enjoy the scenic views of the country side. Geldran said the multiple high turbines near his home would impact that view, and the noise produced by the turbines would hinder his ability to enjoy an on property pond.
Jeff Wagenknecht, also of rural Walnut, lives approximately 1.5 miles from the current Blue Sky wind farm.
He says the noise of the farm, especially during the night, is an annoyance at his home.
Wagenknecht said he is unable to open the windows of his home at night because the noise does not allow for easy sleep, a sentiment echoed by Donnelly.
All of Monday evening’s participants also wondered how the setback rules would apply if they, or a surrounding land owner, wished to build a home or other structure on their land.
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