LINCOLN – On Thursday, September 8, 2016, the Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing and voted on whether to approve amendments to the existing conditional use permit for Sugar Creek One Wind Farm.
ZBA chairman Doug Thompson said the wind farm was seeking modifications to the original permit “to allow the construction and operation of a wind energy conversion system.”
Over 70 people came to hear about the proposed amendments and updated plans for the construction.
Guests representing the wind farm project were Stan Komperda and Chris Nickell from the American Wind Energy Management Corporation, Scott Koziar and Dave Wagner from Apex Clean Energy, and Kyle Barry, an attorney with Husch Blackwell.
Updates on project and studies
Kyle Barry said the original permit was approved in June 2011 subject to certain conditions. He said though the permit is still active, amendments are needed due to changes in the wind industry, a purchase by a new owner, and improved technology in wind turbines allowing for fewer turbines.
Barry said the energy produced would remain the same. He said with fewer turbines needed and a new layout, a new noise study has also been done. Apex has also signed an Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement with standards similar to wind farm ordinances.
Scott Koziar is the Senior Director of Project Development for Apex Clean Energy. He said Apex is a developer, constructor, owner, and operator of wind farms across the nation and have developed three billion dollars worth of wind farm projects. They have installed more megawatts than any other developer and worked with many large utility companies.
Koziar said Apex aims to develop relationships with communities. Apex wants to be “good neighbors” and “listen to feedback from the board and the public and incorporate those into the project.” Koziar said they will conduct on-site operations with a fully staffed maintenance center to “control and monitor wind turbines for efficiency and safety issues.”
Stan Komperda is American Wind Energy’s Director of Development. He said abundant grid access and high demand for energy make Illinois a good wind resource.
Komperda said the project location is five miles west of Lincoln and is bound by Route 10 between New Holland and the Mason County line, and includes an area just north of Salt Creek and the Rocky Ford quarry road. He said power lines that “crisscross” the project are of electrical interest. A new switchyard has already been constructed by Fogerty Grain Elevator.
Komperda said the project’s “footprint” represents 16,000 acres with 11,500 acres assigned to the project. He said with new turbine models, 40 fewer machines will be needed, which will speed along construction and minimize impacts to fields and roads. Construction should begin in spring 2017 and will take approximately nine months.
Komperda said the setbacks of 1,225 feet are nearly 20 percent more than what is required by the ordinance. The setback is also required to be 1.1 times the turbine height from utilities, roads, high voltage lines, gas pipelines, and property lines of non-participating landowners. Komperda said since they are considering using 492 foot tall turbines, it would require a setback of 541 feet.
Barry called experts to share updates on environmental and wildlife impact, noise studies, and a real estate impact study.
David Phillips, Director of Wildlife and Environmental Permitting for Apex, oversees regulatory compliances related to wind projects. Phillips said ecological studies show the site is low risk. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Illinois Department of Natural Resources have approved the project as long as it complies with ecological impacts.
Eddie Duncan, Director of Acoustics for Resource Systems Group Incorporated, has evaluated noise levels for other wind energy projects and did a noise study on the project. Duncan said sound levels are regulated and cannot cause an “exceedance of sound levels to residential lands.” He said his research has shown most wind farms do not exceed noise levels.
Duncan said his noise study showed sound levels from the project would comply with Illinois Pollution Control Board standards. Duncan used a model of a layout similar to the previous study to measure sound levels and said no residences within the project area exceed the limits even when he looked at high frequency sounds.
Peter Poletti works for Poletti and Associates Incorporated, a real estate appraisal consulting firm. He performed a real estate impact study for the wind farm in 2011 and found no measurable difference for prices in houses located near wind turbines. Poletti said he has driven through this area in the last five years and feels the new layout is not likely to change impacts or affect property sales.
Questions from ZBA members
Various members of the ZBA then had more questions for the wind farm representatives.
ZBA member Cheryl Baker asked about base sizes for larger towers.
Komperda said what is above ground would be about a 12 foot diameter steel shaft on a concrete base. The bases are similar to those used in the Railsplitter Wind Farm project.
ZBA chairman Doug Thompson asked Komperda about why the previous 1,500 foot setback has been changed to 1,225 feet and setbacks for crossing power lines, roads, or non-participating properties have also been moved.
Komperda said with a reduced number of machines, the spacing of machines is larger and the 1,225 is just a minimum setback. With the larger machines, Apex will not build on land exceeding setbacks. He said they eliminated locations where setbacks would cross power lines.
Judi Graff asked about the turbine size increase and impact on road use considerations.
Komperda said a few roads may need a corridor put in to handle turn arounds, but noted the rotor size diameter is what is increased.
ZBA member Scott Noltensmeier asked how they would dig transmission lines and what happens if they do not realize a (farm drainage) tile is there or miss a tile.
Koziar said an auger machine does an open cut. If they feel a tile, it must be documented. Apex must repair tiles and address drainage issues.
Barry said the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement addresses tile issues and asks for surveys of tile systems. Koziar said they would ask homeowners for maps.
Thompson asked Poletti if a study had been done on sales of homes since 2011.
Poletti said no, but he has found in other areas with wind farms, property values have not been affected considerably. He said a house built after Mendota did a wind farm project sold for a price similar to other houses in area.
Noltensmeier asked if homeowners originally enrolled in the project would still receive payments even if they were not “hosting” a tower.
Komperda said they would still get land payments, but not turbine payments.
Thompson asked for public comments and several people addresses concerns about the project with some of those mentioning noise levels
Guy Podelsbek of New Holland said he is concerned about noise levels and asked the ZBA to look thoroughly at the levels and reconsider their negative effects.
Steven Goodman of Lincoln said he is concerned about noise levels and decreased setbacks and distances to gas lines. He also asked about road studies.
Komperda said the Panhandle Company will help survey and locate pipelines and road studies will be done during construction.
Donna Bishop lives near Atlanta, where another wind farm project is being considered. She feels wind farms can have negative impacts on health and agriculture. Bishop said property devaluation was another concern.
Three men from the Vermillion County area spoke against the project, warning everyone about negative impacts they have observed from the wind farm in their area.
Ted Hartke said noise levels of the turbines cause sleep problems for his family and caused them to abandon their homes. He believes turbines exceed noise levels even though studies show otherwise.
Vince Koers said school children in the county experienced sleep deprivation. He said wind farm manuals show turbines should be 1600 feet upwind and feels the ZBA should look at manuals for the machines to make sure Apex’s standards fit.
Lynn McLendon of Danville said he is concerned about impacts to citizens and lower property values. He felt the ZBA should revisit some of the terms.
Barry said he objected to what the visitors said since they do not live in the area and are not experts.
Lyle Read of Lincoln said it would have been nice to have handouts of what was presented to better understand the information. Read would like a little more information. He asked everyone to remember the (public) hearing (they were now in) is not a trial.
ZBA approves amendments with a few conditions
After a short break to allow ZBA members to discuss the issues among themselves, Rick Sheley motioned to approve the amendments to the permit.
Doug Thompson said they wanted to add a few new conditions:
Revised plans to show compliance to the setbacks based on turbine size and height.
Revised plans to remove collector lines and connecting junction boxes outside of the originally approved project boundary.
Revised plans to show how all towers are able to connect.
Receive FAA approvals determining there would be no hazards to air navigation.
Submission of interference studies to insurances.
The motion to approve the amendments passed 5-2 with Cheryl Baker, Judy Graff, Brett Farmer, Rick Sheley, and Doug Thompson voting, “yes.” Derek Martin and Scott Noltensmeier voted, “no.”
The matter will go before the Logan County Board next. The board meets in Workshop on Thursday, Sept. 15 and votes in Regular session on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
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