PAXTON – The Ford County Board’s zoning committee voted unanimously Tuesday morning to send proposed revisions to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms to the county’s planning commission for that panel’s consideration.
The planning commission will be asked whether to concur with the proposed changes. From there, the revised ordinance advances to the county’s zoning board of appeals, which will conduct a public hearing on the revised ordinance and vote on whether to accept it. Finally, the document will go before the full county board, which would then need to approve it for it to become official.
Zoning Committee Chairman Dave Hastings of Paxton said he expects to informally present the proposal to the full county board during its regular meeting on June 11.
Among the changes the committee approved Tuesday were an increase in the maximum tower tip height from 500 to 650 feet; a setback from a primary structure and village limits totaling three times the tip height – 1,950 feet – or 1,500 feet, whichever is greater; and a setback from property lines of 1.25 times the tip height.
Board member Gene May of rural Paxton told Hastings he was “dug in” on the property line setback, although Erin Baker of Apex Clean Energy said it would make no statistical difference in safety from 1.1 times the tip height and might limit the wind farm’s buildable area.
May reiterated he is most concerned about the owners of smaller properties.
“I don’t care about the farmers because they don’t care about us,” said May. “I’m worried about us.”
May’s fear is that if a blade goes flying from a wind turbine, no one knows the path it will take.
Committee member Tom McQυinn of rural paxton said he also is concerned about the small property owner and acknowledged that there are many of them throughout the county.
The committee also approved changes to decommissioning requirements, including that a professional engineer’s estimate of the cost to remove a wind farm must be provided by a wind-farm operator every two years; that wind turbines’ foundations must be removed to a depth of 5 feet; and that transmission cables can remain buried so long as the county is waived from any responsibility should the wires work their way to the surface. Also, individual turbines left dormant for six months must be decommissioned unless the wind-farm operator asks for a waiver from the county board.
The committee also agreed to require wind-farm operators post a performance bond when their building permits are issued in order to 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 windfarm is abandoned.
The committee spent considerable time discussing a time line for dispute resolution. The committee finally agreed to allow up to a year for resolution as long as the company is taking good-faith steps toward a solution and continues to send updates monthly to the board. Also included is a provision stating that when all resolutions are exhausted, the county may revoke the company’s special-use permit.
“We need something with teeth,” said McQuinn. “We didn’t have a clue when the first ordinance was done. We want to make sure the owner will come talk to us when there is a problem.”
Tuesday’s audience was small as compared with previous meetings. Just four representatives of wind farm interests attended. No critics of the industry were there.
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