A proposed wind farm in La Salle County’s southeastern corner cleared a key hurdle Wednesday night.
The county’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously for the 53-turbine project. The proposal goes to the County Board for a final decision next month.
During a more than two-hour hearing, a representative of Portland-based Avangrid Renewables said the project would fit into the agricultural nature of Allen and Otter Creek townships.
“Wind farming and agriculture have co-existed for over a century,” said Avangrid’s Jeff Reinkemeyer, the lead project developer.
The company also contended the wind farm would have no effect on neighboring property values.
But zoning board member Tom Bruch questioned that argument. During a hearing on a sand mine, he said, an industry representative argued wind farms were more detrimental to property values than sand mines.
“Who is right?” Bruch asked.
Michael MaRous, an appraiser speaking on behalf of Avangrid, said he spoke with assessors in all the state’s counties with wind farms and asked whether nearby properties had seen drops in values as a result of turbines. None saw such an effect, he said.
“Usually when people think they have opportunity to get their taxes decreased, they’ll take it,” MaRous said. “There is no impact on selling of homes.”
He added that sand mines include truck traffic and blasting.
According to Avangrid, the proposed wind farm is expected to bring in an extra $17 million in property tax revenue over two decades. The two biggest recipients will be Streator High School and the Allen-Otter Creek elementary school district. (Streator High Superintendent Matt Seaton attended the hearing.)
Reinkemeyer said his company would provide good-neighbor payments to those within a half mile of turbines. That offer was made known during a community meeting last year, he said.
Twenty-six people have signed up for the good-neighbor program, with more expected, Reinkemeyer said.
Avangrid has leased 11,000 acres for the project from more than 100 participating landowners, according to the company. It’s ultimate footprint would involve less than 2 percent of the leased area, Avangrid said.
The company has yet to secure a customer for its power, although Reinkemeyer said it is close to reaching an agreement. If a deal is struck, construction could start in the fall and finish in 2018, he said.
The project would be between two existing wind farms in the area. The county has about 220 existing turbines.
Only a few people questioned the project during the public hearing, even though more than 50 people attended.
John Defenbaugh, a farmer who owns land in Otter Creek Township, was one of them.
“You are transforming an agricultural area into an industrial area,” he said. “Electricity is not a crop.”
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