Piatt County’s Zoning Board of Appeals last week recommended larger setbacks for wind turbines, but the increase is much less than was recommended last year by the board.
After taking testimony from several audience members, the ZBA voted unanimously to amend its current large Wind Energy Conversion ordinance to mandate setbacks of 1.3 times the tower tip height to the nearest non-participating primary structures, or 1,600 feet, whichever is greater. The same ratio was approved for setbacks from towers to non-participating property lines, or 1,600 feet.
The current ordinance, drafted in 2009, mandates setbacks of 1.1 times the maximum tip height or 1,600 feet.
The recommendation will be considered by the county board on Thursday, Nov. 12.
Last year, ZBA members recommended increasing ratios to 3.75 times the blade tip height – the highest spot that blades are from the ground – for both measures. The county board sent it back for further consideration, with the process being delayed when COVID-19 hit and prompted remote-only meetings for several months.
Apex Clean Energy in 2019 announced the Goose Creek Energy project, which they say will include up to 120 turbines through the Blue Ridge, DeLand-Weldon and Monticello school districts. They have not yet applied for permits.
The increase from 1.1 to 1.3 times the blade tip height will likely not add any distance to the setbacks, since the ordinance mandates a minimum of at least 1,600 feet. For a 467-foot tip height – which is how tall the blades are on Apex’s Hoopeston wind farm – the 1,600 foot minimum would take hold.
If a 3.75 times ratio would have stuck, the setback would move back to 1,785 feet on a 467-foot-tall tower and blade.
The company has not released how tall the Goose Creek turbines would be, but Apex consultant and real estate attorney Mark Gershon said the 1,600 feet from adjacent property lines was a “significant problem” since it was tied to the larger, 3.75 times proposal.
“The 1,600 feet was tied with doing the 3.75. Either one of those ends up with that map you saw with one red dot on the entire placement,” said Gershon, referring to a map that showed how limited the company would be with larger setbacks.
Without the 1,600 feet minimum, he said “the 1.1 worked, the 1.3 is a restriction we could live with.”
Alan Moore of Apex added that a ratio of 1.3 would be “one of the most restrictive” in the area. He also referred to the map, saying the 3.75 ratio would “effectively ban wind farms in Piatt County.”
He also felt that property rights of land owners who wish to lease property to Apex should be considered.
Some audience members spoke out for larger setbacks. Claudia Coil of Mansfield pointed to European studies showing health issues within 2.5 miles away from turbines, and thought 3.75 times the tower tip height should be the “minimum.”
Travis Hermann of rural DeLand in Goose Creek Township felt there could be danger from blades that break, citing the Bright Stalk Wind Farm near Chenoa, which had three tips break in September of 2019.
He also favored the 3.75 times ratio the ZBA recommended last year.
“I’m asking for the members of this zoning board to continue with your recommendation of a zoning setback of 3.75 times the blade tip. I do not feel there has been any compelling evidence that has been given to the zoning board since the recommendation was made to the county board in December of 2019,” said Hermann. “I don’t think there is any need to reduce that setback requirement.”
Others spoke in favor of the project, siting ecological as well as economic benefits.
Robert Scott, the executive director of Power Up Illinois, said there had been no recorded cases of injury from tip shed/breaking on record, and encouraged the board to consider being a friend of wind development.
“Fairness and safety, and not politics, should govern zoning rules,” said Scott. “When we think about all regulation, it exists on a curve. Too little regulations and you have problems, you have conflict, you have safety concerns. Too much regulation you end up with the same thing.”
John Jordan, of Mansfield, pointed out that nuclear power plants are shutting down amid stiff competition from other forms of energy, and claimed that “wind farms can compete.”
He added the real estate taxes the county receives would help its bottom line.
Tui Lynch, a member of IBEW Local 601, said construction of a wind farm could provide possible work for its members, 20 of whom live in Piatt County.
Piatt County resident and ecologist Amanda Pankau said she was an advocate of wind energy, not only for the clean power it can provide but for the economic boost it could give the area, and that it could spur a post-pandemic recovery that will be needed.
“We need an economic recovery. The two fastest growing jobs in the United States right now are wind energy technician and solar energy technicians,” said Pankau.
She also noted that county government made cuts last year, with more cuts expected for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
“Opportunities like this are the ones that are coming our way. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for our county,” she added.
Also speaking for the project, either in person or by submitted statements, were A Small Hand Diaper Pantry Director Christina Sanantonio, Monticello School Superintendent Vic Zimmerman, and land owner Jane Evans.
Participating online, Dave Oliger opposed it, saying the county needs to protect non-participating land owners who would be adjacent to the turbines.
The zoning board is using a phased approach to tackle potential amendments to the wind energy code. It is also tasked with addressing allowable noise, shadow flicker and allowed tower tip height.
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