The Morgan County Board of County Commissioners is discussing an ordinance that could impact a proposed wind farm near Waverly and Franklin.
The board is looking at proposed changes to setbacks and other limitations on the placement of wind turbines near homes after several residents raised concerns about a wind farm’s potential effects on its neighbors.
Wind turbines now be placed a minimum of 1,000 feet from a home’s foundation, with other setbacks for roads, powerlines and waterways.
Michael Woodyard of the Ad Hoc Citizens Committee for Property Rights spoke to the board Monday to voice concerns about safety, the environment and property rights.
“The current ordinance doesn’t protect the rights of the property owners,” Woodyard said. “There is no protection for those that don’t want to participate.”
The wind farm Apex Clean Energy is proposing in southeastern Morgan County would include the installation of between 80 and 120 wind turbines, depending on their size.
Chris Nickell, director of site establishment for American Wind Energy Management, a partner on the project, said the plan is to add 300 megawatts to the the new Ameren line system.
“The number of turbines will be directly associated with the size of (the) turbine,” Nickell said. “We do not know which turbine will be used at this time.”
Woodyard said setbacks built into the ordinance need to be increased, as well as protections for neighboring property owners who could be affected by the turbines.
He also would like to see a clause that mandates that the company must cooperate with neighboring landowners who could be impacted by a turbine, he said.
“I believe the developer should have to negotiate a contract with me, before encroaching on my property,” Woodyard said.
Woodyard said with the current ordinance, a turbine can be placed on his neighbor’s property as close as 1,000 feet from his home. While the turbine would not be on his property, Woodyard said it could affect his home, either from a safety standpoint if a problem were to occur with the turbine or simply from the inconvenience of signal interruptions.
Each turbine has a catastrophic zone, an area that automatically would be evacuated if there were an emergency or a problem with a turbine, Woodyard said.
Any ordinances need prevent a turbine from being placed in an area where the home of a non-participating property owner’s home would be within that zone, he said.
“I’m not against the project, I want it to work,” Woodyard said. “I just want it to be what’s best for everyone in the county versus just a few.”
While Woodyard said a manufacturer’s manual lists the catastrophic evacuation zone as 1,640 feet, Nickell said that number varies depending on the type of turbine used.
Woodyard also pointed to several studies showing that erosion and sedimentation control are a concern with construction of the turbines, saying developers need to take steps to protect the waterways and their impact on local farms.
Helen Humphreys, public affairs manager for Apex, said the company will assess all safety concerns and take precautions, including soil erosion and sedimentation control, as the project moves forward.
“Before construction can begin, Apex Clean Energy (Apex) will submit a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit application. The application will include a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPP) and all measures Apex will use to prevent uncovered soils from being transported off-site by wind or storm water,” Humphreys said. “The permit application will also describe how Apex will restore the area and reestablish vegetation. Only after the IEPA reviews and approves Apex’s soil erosion prevention and sedimentation control plans will we move forward with construction.”
There is not a set project in place, Nickell said, noting that the companies are working with local land owners to establish potential turbine sites.
Humphreys said the timeline for the project has not been established and will depend on the interest from property owners and decisions made by the board on any ordinance changes.
Woodyard presented the board with a petition with roughly 150 signatures asking that applications not be filed until the board has addressed the ordinance. Before the project continues, it should be completely reviewed by the Regional Planning Committee, he said.
Board Chairman Brad Zeller said the board is looking into the ordinance and potential ordinance changes.
“This ordinance was established in 2009, when we had no zoning ordinances regarding wind turbines,” Zeller said. “The board was being proactive in having the ordinance drafted strictly for the purpose of protecting rural property owners rights.”
While he did not say when decisions would be made, he said the proposed changes are not project-friendly, including increased setbacks.
“Any changes made will be pro-Morgan County,” Zeller said.
Zeller also noted that Apex hasn’t formally brought the project to the board.
“Right now, no one knows where these turbines will be put,” Zeller said. “When we do, we’ll have to determine the footprint. We can’t say what effects the turbines will and won’t have.”