MONTICELLO – The Piatt County zoning board of appeals is recommending 15-hour wind turbine shadow flicker limit on adjacent homes. That is the same amount that the county board sent back tot he ZBA in January.
One key addition, however, is the addition of pastureland with cattle as areas that cannot experience more than the 15 hours of flicker annually.
That change came after testimony from an audience member at the ZBA’s Feb. 25 meeting that flicker can alter the breeding cycles of livestock.
“I’d like to see a proposal of zero hours flicker effect on any livestock facilities,” said Piatt County farmer Dylon Gallagher, citing a study conducted by the World Council for Nature.
“It cited that it could cause issues with cycling of breeding stock,” added Gallagher, who said the cattle portion of his operation is located near Galesville.
Consultants and company officials for Apex Clean Energy countered – just as they have throughout county meetings aimed at adjusting its 2009 wind energy conversion ordinance prior to the company applying for permits – that there is no credible research showing that shadow flicker affects the health of those near wind turbines.
“The simple version is turbines spin far too slowly to create any risk of epilepsy in patients with this (photo sensitive) condition,” Apex spokesman Alan Moore said. “So, given there is no risk to humans, no regulation is needed at the county level from a safety perspective.”
But Piatt County resident Jim Reed said he has seen shadow flicker in action.
“I actually have a brother-in-law who has suffered from flicker-induced seizures, and they do exist. I know in the testimony they gave to the zoning board previously that it was not medically relevant,” Reed said. “But I can tell you, if you’ve seen one, if you’ve been around someone that has it, it is medically relevant.”
Reed felt it should be up to wind producers to negotiate with individual land owners to extend limits to anything more than zero.
Apex consultant Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen countered that Health Canada and Epilepsy Foundation studies show that turbines spin far too slowly for flicker to cause health issues, saying it takes more of a strobe-light level of intensity to cause seizures.
“The turbines that run will be less than 1 hertz (cycles per second) frequency, and really the bare minimum for 5 fertz, and the frequency that really that we use to determine whether they have this phenomenon is 10 hertz or higher,” Ellenbogen said.
He noted there is a large difference between 1 and 5 hertz.
“It would be like saying safety at 55 miles per hour is the same as driving safely at five times that, which would be like 275 miles per hour. It’s a big difference. It’s not even on the radar screen for you with these turbines,” Ellenbogen said.
Audience members on both sides of the shadow flicker subject testified to the ZBA.
Among those touting there should be no shadow flicker allowed at neighboring residences was Piatt County resident Dave Oliger, who referred to a report published online in 2017 by University of Illinois economics professor Eric Zou that claims to link wind farms with increases in suicide.
Also speaking out against wind projects in Piatt County was Monticello resident Steve Shreffler, who suggested a moratorium on wind farms.
In favor of the Goose Creek Wind proposal was Amanda Pankau, who spoke to the benefits of renewable energy.
“I’m in support of renewable energy development in our county. I believe these opportunities will benefit landowners, farmers, taxpayers, school districts, other public services and also help the state of Illinois reach our renewable energy goals,” Pankau, another county resident, said.
She also cited a fact sheet from the Center of Rural Affairs that discusses the benefits of wind energy.
Robert Scott of Power Up Illinois also spoke in favor of wind farms, saying they provide jobs and tax dollars to the communities where they reside.
Apex Clean Energy attorney Mark Gershon pointed out that 10 of 15 surrounding counties currently do not address shadow flicker at all in their wind ordinances.
“If your goal is to ban wind, then you’re talking about zero hours,” Gershon said.
After about two hours of testimony, ZBA members expressed varying opinions on the issue.
William Chambers, in his first meeting as the newest zoning board member, felt there should be shadow-flicker limits.
“If set at no limit, I feel like we’re going to get more of the same and the landscape of the Piatt County will never be the same. The sky that I grew up under will not ever be clear again. It will always be industrial turbines all around the farm community,” he said.
Chambers also noted DeWitt County had no shadow flicker limits when a large wind project was approved last year, but that after new board members were voted in, changes are being considered for any subsequent wind projects.
“Our neighbors in DeWitt County have the right idea. If they have enough concern over this to set the limit to zero, I think that’s the course of action,” Chambers said, pointing out the limit could always be revisited in the future.
ZBA member Jim Harrington qualified his stance in favor of wind power.
“I think you guys (Apex) have done an excellent job of dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s and I think you will do so going forward,” Harrington said. “We want wind in the right place, and you will work with us, we will work with you, and I feel this is the best way I know to try to meet you in the middle.”
ZBA chairman Loyd Wax – the only one to vote against the eventual 15-hour limit that will now be considered by the county board – said he had become convinced that studies show flicker cannot be tied to health concerns.
“A reasonable compromise, in my opinion, and one supported by most evidence, is 30 hours. I am not disputing that there are people who feel very strongly about this, and I’m not disputing the compromise we came up with last time,” Wax said.
“I’m just telling you, from my viewpoint, I feel the credible evidence for 30 hours is reasonable.”
ZBA member Dan Larson proposed a compromise similar to what the ZBA recommended to the county board late last year: A 15-hour limit on shadow flicker, but adding pastureland with cattle to areas that cannot be affected by shadow flicker more than that limit each year.
Like the previous recommendation, a landowner can negotiate with energy companies to allow for more hours of shadow flicker if desired.
The recommendation now moves to the county board, which will likely consider it at its March 10 meeting.
In recent months, the board has endorsed ZBA setback recommendations of 1.3 times the tower tip height to the nearest primary structure, or 1,600 feet, whichever is greater. The same ratio was approved for setbacks from towers to adjacent property lines, or 1,000 feet, whichever is greater.
Noise limits have also been addressed, with the county opting to use Illinois Pollution Control Board standards, which experts have said limits noise to 46 dBa (decibels adjusted) at adjacent homes.
A tower tip height maximum of 625 feet has also been approved.
Apex Clean Energy has not formally applied for permits for the Goose Creek Wind Project, but has proposed a 300 Megawatt wind project for northern Piatt County.