LINCOLN – On Wednesday, May 3, 2017, the Logan County Regional Planning Commission heard from representatives of Swift Current Energy, who asked for approval of amendments to the Hilltopper Wind Farm project.
Guests at the meeting were Matt Birchby and William Kelsey, representatives of Swift Current Energy; and Kyle Barry, attorney for the project.
Regional Planning Commission members present were Chairman Bill Graff, Vice Chairman Blair Hoerbert, Chuck Ruben, Jim Cole, Jeff Hoinacki, Gerald Lolling, Scott Schaffenacker, Dave Schonauer, Jim Vipond and Becky Werth. Logan County Zoning Officer Will D’Andrea and County Highway Engineer Bret Aukamp were also present.
Attorney Kyle Barry shared the background on the wind farm project. He said, “You may recall in July 2015, the county board voted to award a permit for what was then known as the Meridian project. That permit was for 81 wind turbines.”
Barry said they have two applications that need approval. He said, “The first application is an application seeking to amend the existing permit.” Barry said the amendment reduces the number of turbines from 81 to 74, moves some of the turbine locations around, and moves turbines away from Mount Pulaski. In the original permit, the site location was one mile from Mount Pulaski. On the amended permit, it is two miles from Mount Pulaski.
Barry said, “The second application is to add new parcels to the existing project to move farther away from town.” He said, “As part of the application, we are also seeking a variance for a single parcel relating to a noise issue.”
Barry said, “The end result will be fewer turbines and a better layout for the community.”
Birchby shared the history of Swift Current Energy, which was founded in summer 2016 and is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts.
Birchby said, in December 2016, Swift Current Energy acquired the Meridien Wind Farm from Relight, an Italian based developer, and “since that time, I have been very busy working to improve the project.”
A handout outlined some of the changes. Swift Current Energy renamed the project “Hilltopper Wind” which is “part of a broader effort to better integrate the project into the community.”
Birchby said his company is looking to improve the project by taking the community into account. He said the new project footprint improves on the layout, so “not only does the wind farm perform better, but it does it with less of an impact to the community.”
Birchby said the new plan moves the project a mile south of the original layout, which will provide an “increased setback” with a “two-mile buffer” around the city of Mount Pulaski. He said, “there was some concern in terms of the adverse impact of the project” in the original layout.
Birchby said the reduced footprint allows for bigger setbacks of around 1900 feet or more from most homes. It also reduces the number of turbines, which will help with noise compliance. He said, “in terms of the transmission line, we reduced it by close to two miles.”
Birchby said they recognize that “a priority in the community is farming” and have taken that into account.
Barry said he believes the applications comply with Logan County’s zoning ordinances that “govern conditional uses” and wind farms. He said, “We respectfully ask for a positive vote on both applications to recommend [them] to the Zoning Board of Appeals.”
Regional Planning Commission chairman Bill Graff said the commission needs to consider how the project fits in with the county’s overall plans.
Commission member Scott Schaffenacker asked about plans the commission has.
Graff said, the commission has “a comprehensive plan” that talks about developing the county and plans for bringing in more tax revenue for the county.
Zoning officer Will D’Andrea said in 2005, wind farms were identified as appropriate conditional uses in agricultural districts.
Commission member Becky Werth said, “My general thought is, we approved [the original project] two years ago and if anything, it has been tweaked so it fits even better. I don’t see any red flags that we shouldn’t approve it.”
Commission member Jim Vipond said two years ago, one of the biggest concerns was the amount of land and the amendment involves less land. He pointed out that the commission unanimously approved the project because it “fit into the concept of planning for the county.”
Vipond said drainage tiles were another concern a couple years ago.
Kelsey, who works with Swift Current Energy, said they realize the community is agriculturally based. He said, “Our job as a developer is to try to develop a project that really fits in with the farming activities as best possible.”
Kelsey said, “One of the things you have to deal with is drainage tiles.” He said, “We are fully aware that we are going to break tile when we are installing the project,” but “will work with landowners to identify where the tiles are” so it does not happen often.
Kelsey said, we will be “proactive” by “communicating with the landowners” and working with them to repair any damages to tile. Swift Current Energy has done that in other communities they have worked with.
Barry said there is a new state law requiring new wind projects to enter into an Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.” This law has provisions for addressing drainage tiles and making sure they are repaired.
Commission member Blair Hoerbert asked about the closest setback (distance from structures, roads, etc.).
Birchby said there is 1,000 feet from one residence and they will ask for a variance for that setback. He said that landowner asked for a second turbine. Birchby said the next closest one is “around 1,300 feet.”
Logan County Board chairman and commission member Chuck Ruben asked how deep the collection lines are and whether they are trenched. Ruben said “it is easier to find broken tile lines” when it is trenched.
Kelsey said the lines are five feet deep and trenched. He said cable spacing is important.
New commission member Jim Cole asked about the size of the cables.
Kelsey said they vary from 500 to 750 KC millimeters all the way up to 1,000 KC millimeters. They will have a survey crew with a GPS for the path and the GPS will help show where they break tile.
Cole said he knew footage above pipelines has changed since 2009 and thought it needed “five feet of dirt above it.”
Kelsey said less than five feet seems “irresponsible.”
Ruben asked whether they would have JULIE locates or wind farm locates. He said the Railsplitter Wind Farm is not a JULIE locate, and you have to “go to the wind farm to locate their collection lines.”
Kelsey said there is now more of a Geographical Information System, but he would have to check the protocol.
Logan County Highway Engineer Bret Aukamp said “a wind farm developer will need to be a member of JULIE” and they may need to contact JULIE for right of ways.
After questions were answered, commission member Becky Werth motioned that the commission recommend approval of the applications.
Graff said they needed to vote on each one separately.
The commission unanimously approved the amendments to conditional use of an agricultural district for the wind farm.
A public hearing will be held tonight, Thursday, May 4 at 7:30 pm at Mount Pulaski Christian Church with the Zoning Board of Appeals voting whether to approve the amendments to the existing permit.
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