Walworth County officials are in the process of reworking their planning and zoning ordinances, including a setback ordinance that could make or break a wind energy project.
According to Walworth County State’s Attorney James Hare, the existing zoning ordinances are very old and basically obsolete.
Last week, the planning and zoning board approved the revamped ordinances and forwarded them to the county commission for public hearings.
“Basically, the main issue was, of course, wind energy setbacks,” Hare said. “At a previous meeting, they had modified the setbacks to 2,600 feet. Then they moved to change the setbacks back to the original 2 miles. For the wind energy people, that pretty much kills the deal.”
If the 2-mile setbacks are approved, Hare said that would hurt a proposed Tradewind Energy project and essentially place a moratorium on wind development in the county.
“They’ve done a lot of groundwork ahead of time. But this was going to be one of the keys of them going to work on a whole wind farm,” Hare said of Tradewind’s plans.
Hare said the number of wind farm proponents and opponents seem about evenly split in the county.
Kate Valentine, project development manager for Tradewind Energy, issued a statement that said the company still looks forward to working with landowners and county officials to develop a project that creates jobs and provides economic development.
“However, we were disappointed by the Planning Board’s decision to revert the zoning ordinance to the 2-mile setback from non-participating residences from the half-mile setback,” Valentine said in the statement.
“This far exceeds the current industry standard. It is our hope that the Walworth County Commissioners will work with us to find a fair and equitable solution for the community,”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Valentine said the 200-megawatt wind farm project would include between 70 and 100 towers.
“We started our contact with landowners back in September and October of 2016,” Valentine said. “First, we reached out to landowners and had a meeting – which was well-attended – for people to just learn about Tradewind and wind energy in general.”
The wind farm was sited in the northeastern region of Walworth County, she said.
Walworth County Commissioner James Houck voted in favor of the 2-mile setbacks after hearing of the troubles wind farms have caused some counties in other states.
“I’ve talked to people from other parts of the country that have had wind farms – I got some letters in Wisconsin and Minnesota – and they are having some big feuds between neighbors,” Houck said.
“In my opinion, if they’re going to have (a wind farm) up there, they need to have their neighbors all involved instead of pitting each other against each other,” Houck said, fearing the wind farm would start a feud among Walworth County residents.
Houck said there were around 30 Walworth County landowners who showed up to a recent planning and zoning meeting in opposition of the wind farm. That’s compared to two who were in favor of it, he said.
He said the opponents were concerned about the noise and “flicker,” which is the flicker of shadows and sunshine created by the rotating turbines.
Houck also said many wind farm opponents are not against wind energy, but against the possibility of giving up their property rights.
Hare echoed Houck on the reasons residents oppose having the wind farm in Walworth County, and said other concerns included disruption of livestock and wildlife.
Dick Randall is one of the Walworth County residents whose land is being considered for use as the site of a turbine or two.
“There are a lot of landowners and right now, but nobody is guaranteed a wind farm, myself included,” Randall said.
He is against the 2-mile setbacks and would like to see wind energy be generated within the county for the economic stimulus.
“Walworth County has no more land to tax. God isn’t going to make anymore land,” Randall said. “The only way to balance these budgets and to keep spending money is to either raise the taxes on the land the county has or figure out new ways of revenue. And right now, a wind farm is an awfully good idea.”
Lyle Perman, a Walworth County resident and former member of the planning and zoning board, said it isn’t the board’s job to gauge the economic benefits of a project.
“That’s not the role of a planning and zoning commission. It’s to protect those who want the particular business and protect the county,” he said.
Many of the reasons cited by both sides lack research of evidence, Perman said.
“Some of them that they did bring up, I had a hard time finding any type of evidence to support their claims, other than testimonials or anecdotal-type of evidence,” he said.
“You’ve got to hang your hat on the proof. With lack of proof it’s a none issue,” he said.
According to Houck, the public hearings for the ordinances will be scheduled for sometime in March or April.
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Economic stimulus from Tradewind Energy wind farm project
• $300,000 to $350,000 per year for life of the project, or about 20 years.
• A total of $6 million to $7 million.
Selby Area School District
• $300,000 to $350,000 for five years, then 20 percent less each year for four years.
• A total of $2 million to $2.5 million.
Source: Kate Valentine, project manager with Tradewind Energy
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