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Zoning committee continues wind-farm talks

PAXTON – The Ford County Board’s zoning committee continues to discuss proposed revisions to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms. The committee talked further about changes to the decommissioning requirements for wind farms during a meeting last Tuesday, but at least one more meeting will be required to make anything final.

Committee Chairman Dave Hastings of Paxton worked from a list of proposed recommendations prepared by Erin Baker of Apex Clean Energy. Baker said the committee could use it as a starting point. Baker’s firm has already been issued a special-use permit to build the Ford Ridge Wind Farm near Sibley but wants to expand the project in the future.

Most of the nearly two-hour meeting was filled by supporters’ and opponents’ comments about a more restrictive wind-farm ordinance. Side arguments were quelled by Hastings, who at one point asked wind-farm opponent Ted Hartke to leave after he would not stop talking.

Hartke renewed his call for a guarantee from Apex that all children in the footprint of a new wind farm would be able to sleep at night. Hartke said he favors more restrictive setbacks – the minimum distance turbines must be from structures, property lines and public roads. Hartke said he abandoned his home in Vermilion County due to the proximity of a wind turbine to his home, which caused noise issues.

Landowner and businessman Steve Glazik said he supports bringing windfarms to the county. Glazik reported results from a farm appraisers’ organization survey that showed land values increasing in areas of Central Illinois where some farmers lease their ground for windfarms. Glazik said he likes the bump to the local economy the construction of wind farms brings.

“We don’t want to be known for being unreasonable,” Glazik said.

Baker said her company would lose 40 percent of buildable area under some new setback proposals. However, Joanne Fetzner reminded the committee that its job is to look out for all Ford County residents.

“If the wind farm can’t live with (more restrictions), then they’ll have to move on,” Fetzner said.

Two property owners with leases for a wind farm – Howard Haley and Ed Moritz – spoke again in favor of wind farms and less restriction.

“If you go to 1,800 feet (for a setback), you can kiss the windfarms good-bye,” Haley said.

Both men cited the importance of the increased revenue to taxing bodies and how the board should not interfere with landowners earning income from leases.

Moritz, who serves on the county’s zoning board, said when his board approved the original ordinance, “we didn’t do it haphazardly.” Moritz called some of the proposed setback changes to address noise concerns “stupid little rules.”

Rural Roberts resident Cindy Ihrke called Moritz’s membership on the zoning board a conflict of interest. Moritz then told her he would resign.

Committee member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton said he has two problems with Baker’s proposals for setbacks – changing maximum tower height from 500 to 650 feet, and any setback from a residence of fewer than 1,800 feet. McQuinn acknowledged that a larger setback could be a problem for the wind-farm companies because there are so many rural homes in the county. McQuinn said he also does not want a waiver included, allowing a wind farm to be a distance of fewer than 1,000 feet from a residence.

Meanwhile, Michael Cressner of Orion Renewable Energy Group told the committee about a British study that showed that at 500 feet away from a turbine, a person has 100 times more likelihood of being struck by lightning than being hit by ice from a turbine or a blade itself.

“You’re penalizing a small landowner (from obtaining a lease) by a statistically insignificant event,” Cressner said.

Committee member Gene May of rural Paxton said he was most concerned about the owners of smaller properties of one or two acres and how setbacks and noise and flicker issues would affect them.

Rural Buckley resident Ann Ihrke, who along with her daughter-in-law, Cindy, will become county board members on Dec. 1, said that maybe a good compromise would be allowing taller towers and then adopting a setback three times their height or 1,950 feet.

“Then they can put up fewer turbines to provide the power they need,” she said.

As discussed at previous meetings, the committee is looking to change the setback from primary structures from a distance of at least 1,000 feet. The committee is also looking at requiring turbines be no closer to adjacent property lines than at least 1.1 times or more a turbine’s tip height.

Ann Ihrke said she is concerned that with depreciation of the turbines, additional tax income will eventually dry up, leaving future county boards with a continuing budgeting problem. Baker said that under Illinois statute, the turbines over time depreciate to a floor of 30 percent, meaning over time they lose 70 percent of their assessed value.

Under decommissioning requirements, the committee will agree to the company posting a performance bond when its building permit is issued that will cover future decommissioning costs. The bond will need to be issued through a reputable insurance company. Hastings said the county would receive the bond proceeds within five to seven days of proving that a wind farm is abandoned.

County Engineer Greg Perkinson said money should also be included in the bond to cover the cost of road restoration, as well. County Board Chairman Randy Berger made it clear that no turbines would remain standing once a wind farm is decommissioned. Some in the audience thought land leaseholders should share in the cost of decommission, but the committee did not agree.

When the committee has signed off on the revised ordinance, it then advances to the county’s zoning board and planning commission for their consideration. Once those two panels sign off on the document, the zoning committee and full county board would then need to approve it.

The committee was expected to meet again on the morning of Tuesday, May 29.