PAXTON – The restrictiveness of proposed new regulations for wind farms in Ford County has led to at least one wind-farm developer pulling its project from the county and looking to build elsewhere, according to Randy Ferguson, chairman of the county board’s zoning committee.
Houston-based Pattern Energy Group, developer of the proposed Heritage Prairie Wind Farm in the Roberts and Piper City area, recently removed its two wind-measuring towers from the project area, Ferguson said.
“They moved them to a more favorable area – a place where people are accepting (of a wind farm) and wanting their tax dollars,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said he was told by a Pattern Energy Group representative that the firm was no longer interested in building its wind farm in Ford County.
“The last I heard, if this ordinance is passed (by the county board as written), they are moving on – and I’ve been told they have already moved on to more receptive pastures,” Ferguson said.
Pattern Energy had warned as much back in December 2018, after the county board took a straw poll that showed all 12 board members supported restricting wind turbines from being any closer than 1,640 feet from the property lines of any land not being leased to a wind-farm operator. The measure was to protect nonparticipating residents from the nuisances turbines can create, such as noise or shadow flicker.
“We want to build here, but if an ordinance is put in place that makes that impossible … we will go elsewhere,” Pattern Energy’s Adam Renz told the board in December 2018.
Pattern Energy Group spokesman Matt Dallas confirmed in an email Tuesday that the company was no longer pursuing a wind farm in Ford County.
“At this time we are not actively pursuing development in Ford County,” Dallas said, “but we will continue to evaluate future options, as we believe a wind project would bring strong benefits to the county, including new tax revenue, jobs and a local source of clean energy.”
Meanwhile, a second developer, Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., continues to move forward with the first phase of its proposed Ford Ridge Wind Farm in the Sibley and Gibson City area. A road-use agreement currently is being negotiated between the firm, the county and the affected townships.
The Ford Ridge Wind Farm’s 120-megawatt first phase “has already received all necessary votes by the county board and currently has an active permit,” said Erin Baker, senior development manager for Apex Clean Energy.
While construction of the project’s 67-turbine first phase is nearing a start – and must be started by Nov. 2, 2021, under its special-use permit – plans for the wind farm’s second phase have been put on hold indefinitely, Baker said.
The second phase is unable to proceed until the county board lifts its moratorium on the issuance of any new special-use permits for wind farms. The moratorium has been in place since October 2017 and remains in effect until the revised wind-farm ordinance is approved by the county board.
“Given the unsettled status of the county’s wind ordinance, this plan (for a second phase) has been placed on hold as we await resolution on the ordinance and the lifting of the moratorium,” Baker said.
Ferguson said the moratorium will remain in place until the revisions to the wind farm ordinance are reviewed and approved by the full board. Since 2017, the board’s zoning committee has been working to review the ordinance and suggest revisions for the full board’s approval, but the ordinance still has not been officially voted on by the full board.
The board’s zoning committee, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic arriving, voted to send its most current draft of the revised ordinance to the state’s attorney, Andrew Killian, for his review in advance of eventually sending it to the county board for a vote. There has been no further action since then.
Ferguson said the board remains divided, in particular, on what the new wind-turbine setbacks should be. The last strawpoll showed a 6-6 split on the issue, Ferguson said.
According to zoning committee members Cindy and Ann Ihrke, the draft version of the ordinance sent to Killian calls for a setback of 2,250 feet from the property lines of adjacent properties containing primary structures, such as homes. A setback distance of at least 2.64 times a wind turbine’s tip height would apply to property lines of land containing no primary structures. The adjacent property owners would be able to waive the setback requirement.
The Ihrkes, in a joint statement, called the draft ordinance “a very good and thorough document that balances the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of this county with allowing continued wind turbine project development, as well as giving clear instructions for what is expected of any wind turbine developer within the county.”
Meanwhile, Apex Clean Energy’s Baker said in an email that “under the direction of the current zoning subcommittee of the board, the ordinance revisions have consistently been trending in a direction that would prohibit further wind development in the county.”
Baker said her company has been “disappointed with the progress on a new ordinance, and we believe it is no secret that there are some involved in the process who are allowing their personal feelings about wind energy to cloud their vision about one of the only opportunities for new revenue that has come to the county for years.”
The Ford Ridge Wind Farm is expected to create seven permanent full-time jobs in Ford County and roughly 200 temporary construction jobs, Baker said. The project is also expected to bring more than $32 million of new property tax revenue to Ford County for use funding Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School, township roads and bridges, and fire districts, Baker said.
Ferguson said Ford County could use more tax revenue, and wind farms can provide it.
“We have no other businesses coming into Ford County that can produce that many millions of dollars worth of tax base,” Ferguson said.
Baker said she hopes “the full board will refocus its efforts on creating data-backed regulations that protect the residents of Ford County, while encouraging the kind of economic development that will help Ford County continue to thrive.”
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