Apex Clean Energy has yet to officially file the necessary zoning applications for its proposed Goose Creek Wind development, but those on both sides of the wind energy issue are already lining up their cases.
That was evident during last week’s Piatt County zoning board of appeals meeting. A main purpose of the session was to review text amendments to the county’s wind energy conversion ordinance.
Moved to one of the courtrooms due to the large crowd in attendance, the Jan. 23 session quickly became a trial on the pros and cons of wind turbines in general.
Some testified that turbines are safe, produce clean energy and provide an economic boost where they are located. Others did not like the idea of turbines near their homes, particularly the noise they generate.
For John Jordan of Mansfield, he felt allowing farmers to lease some of their land to wind developers would diversify the use of their property.
“I know you guys are concerned about prime farmland, but I haven’t heard a farmer in Piatt County that hasn’t complained about not making money. Maybe we don’t need so much prime farmland,” said Jordan.
Piatt County resident and ecologist Amanda Pankau urged the county to encourage renewable energy, saying that “there is a lot of misinformation” about windmills, such as the claim they cost more energy to create than they save.
After quoting a National Renewable Energy Lab study that estimated wind turbines produce 99 percent less of carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal, she asked the ZBA to “allow us to move away from dirty energy sources that for years have polluted our water and our air.”
On the other side was Dave Oliger, who felt a 50 decibel noise limit being discussed in the county code “is not livable. The noise level at my house now is 25 decibels.”
Siting a study done on wind farm noises, noise consultant Mike Hankard did point out that noise is usually measured in decibels, which has an exponential impact when increased. For example, a 10 db increase doubles the amount of noise.
But he felt the state’s noise code – which he called one of the most stringent in the nation – protected citizens with a 46 db limit in a home when it comes to wind turbine noise.
“You are adequately projected by the Illinois Pollution Control Board,” said Hankard, noting the state standards exceed the local ones should they be approved.
“I think that the science on the matter is reasonably clear that if you keep wind turbine noise levels down in that mid-40’s, there’s no demonstrated health impact,” he added.
Ted Hartke disagreed, saying it is the lower bandwidth noise not always covered by IPCB standards that contributed to sleep issues for his family in their home that bordered windmills in Vermillion County. His family eventually moved from that property.
“Is it reasonable to let children sleep inside their home?” was one question he asked Hankard.
Others said economic factors should swing the county in favor of the wind farm. Apex is estimating 120 turbines in northern Piatt County, estimating it would generate $65 million in tax revenue for county governments in 30 years.
Illinois State University economy professor David Loomis estimated the Goose Creek project, as currently proposed, would feature a $400 million investment in the county, with the creation of 339 jobs during construction and 35 permanent jobs.
“This is a great opportunity in terms of economic development for counties like Piatt County.”
Barbara Lamont, a township assessor in Macon County, said the county there receives about $3 million in revenue annually from wind companies.
“With the (Piatt County budget) deficit that I’ve seen from the November meeting, it would be silly not to, because I don’t see any businesses that would bring in that volume of tax revenue to the county that this would bring,” she said.
Appraiser Mike Maroos said he has talked to 100 assessors in areas where there are wind turbines, and told the ZBA that “my conclusion is there are no negative impact on values.”
Hartke responded that a Vermillion County assessor told one of his neighbors that a $20,000 loss in their property’s value could be attributed to the advent of windmills there.
ZBA members discussed proposed changes in the Wind Energy Conversion ordinance, including setbacks. The original document approved by the ZBA last year stated that all towers should be set back a distance of 3.75 times the tower tip height or 1,600 feet, whichever is greater, from adjacent property lines.
An amendment could lower that to 1.1 times the tower tip height or 1,600 feet, which Apex spokesman Erin Baker said is likely needed in order for the project to proceed. Larger setbacks could make it difficult to have enough land available, she said, adding that 3.75 times the tip height “could be prohibitive, especially with towers becoming taller all the time.
“What we ask as you deliberate your ordinance is that we get an ordinance in place that has sufficient guardrails to protects for the safety of your community,” added Baker. “Yes, absolutely, that is our goal too. But that it gives us the regulatory certainly that need to know that we can move on and get to work. Right now that’s uncertain for us.”
Testimony on the wind ordinance was halted after about 2.5 hours of testimony, and will pick up again at next month’s zoning board of appeals meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27.
Others who spoke to the board during the wind ordinance discussion included:
–Travis Hermann of rural DeLand, who asked if there had been any consideration on establishing setbacks that would protect existing drainage patterns and tiles.
–Louis Wosniack, a former University of Illinois professor who described wind energy as “excellent as a supplement.”
–Ron Weishaar of Cisco, who said he uses solar panels at his home and felt Apex treated their landowners and community at their wind farm in the Hoopeston area “very reasonably. I think that speaks volumes.”
–Jonathon Rogers, who performed an ice shed risk assessment, and said there was “a tiny, tiny chance” that ice shed from turbine blades would hit a home.
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