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DeKalb County Board OKs wind testing towers

The installation of two 198-foot wind testing towers that will determine the economic viability of another wind farm in DeKalb County is slated for mid-July, now that EDF Renewable Energy has gained county approval.

The DeKalb County Board on Wednesday approved two special-use permits for the San Diego-based company to install the testing towers in South Grove Township. Board members Misty Haji-Sheikh (D-7) and Jeff Whelan (R-10) voted against the permits, and Vice Chairman Tracy Jones (R-1) abstained.

The board also voted unanimously Wednesday to amend its moratorium on wind and solar energy development to specify that solar panels affixed to rooftops on individual properties and businesses are allowed, as long as the energy is for personal use and not sold commercially.

PJ Saliterman, EDF Renewable Energy’s development director, said the week of July 10 is the earliest that crews will be able to install the towers, and that it will take about two days for them to go up.

One will be on the east side of McQueen Road between Mowers Road and state Route 64, and the other will be at the southeast corner of Glawe and Byers roads.

The board approved the towers with the condition that they would be up no longer than 18 months, despite the company’s request to have them up for three years.

“We’ve already expressed to the county that we would like to have more time, and we’ll take up the issue again, I guess, in 18 months,” Saliterman said.

An irrevocable letter of credit will be issued for each tower to ensure they are removed at the appropriate time, according to the ordinance, which adds that the towers must be removed before 18 months passes unless the board grants an extension followed by a public hearing.

Whelan raised the question during Wednesday’s meeting of why the testing towers should be approved, when a moratorium on wind and solar energy development is in place.

Steve Faivre (D-4), Planning and Zoning committee chairman, said the moratorium applies to the wind turbines themselves, as well as solar panels used to generate commercial energy, not the testing towers.

“The testing just gives EDF the information as to whether or not it would be commercially viable to do that from a wind standpoint,” Faivre said.

Jones, who abstained from voting because he owns property that EDF is considering for development, added that the company’s process of seeking approval for the testing towers had already begun when the moratorium was put in place in March.

Saliterman said that based on conversations with various board members, he has confidence they will “make a good faith effort” to put together a balanced ordinance on renewable energy.

“It’s good that we’re moving forward with this,” Saliterman said. “The question was posed, ‘Why issue MET tower permits when we have voted on a moratorium?’ I think that that demonstrates there are some people that are not really interested in giving this opportunity a fair chance to be heard, and that’s unfortunate. But I am encouraged to see that the majority of the board is open-minded.”

Brad Belanger of South Grove Township gave board members a petition with 311 signatures against testing towers and wind farms before they voted Wednesday.

Belanger said a group of neighbors had also collected signatures urging the board to pass an ordinance on wind farm development before the establishment of the moratorium.

He said he was not dissapointed that the wind testing towers gained approval, as it was “just part of the process.”

“We’ll wait and see,” Bellanger said. “We’ll work with the Planning and Zoning committee as they start working on an ordinance and support the county’s efforts on whatever they need.”

John Lyon, who lives just north of Clare, said one of the wind testing towers will be visible across the field from his home, which he is not happy about. He also is not excited about the potential for future turbines.

“We live in a farm community, and many of us, the most commercial thing we want to see is a grain leg on the farm,” Lyon said. “I want to see my neighbors’ buildings in the distance; I don’t want to watch a motor go around.”

Lyon said he believes wind farms are better suited for less populated areas than DeKalb County, and he urges other concerned residents to attend meetings on the issue.

“Come out and let your views be known,” he said. “The people who are responding are the people who don’t care to have it.”

Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. (D-3) said steps taken so far toward developing a sustainable energy ordinance have included researching regulations in other communities, such as Boone County, as well as in other states.

He said the Planning and Zoning committee is looking to set a date for a meeting dedicated specifically to this issue. The public would be invited to share personal testimonies and their own research.