Discussion of wind farms and changes to the county’s wind farm ordinance dominated discussion at the Edgar County Board study session Monday, May 10.
A committee of board chairman Jeff Voigt, board member Lisa Ellis and citizen John Chittick have been working on updating the county’s wind farm ordinance for approximately a year and the county is facing a deadline for getting a new ordinance in place. The county board declared a moratorium on accepting wind farm applications in November 2020 as a way to work on revising the outdated ordinance without undue outside pressure. Declaring the moratorium, however, set a clock ticking under state law requiring resolution of the issue within six months.
“The committee had a tough time coming up with the setbacks,” Voigt told the county board members. “We are not unanimous.”
Voigt prefers a 2,000-foot setback from inhabited structures, roads and other infrastructure. He said Chittick wants 2,600 feet and Ellis advocates for 3,250 feet. The county board passed an emergency setback of 3,250 feet when declaring the moratorium.
Jonathan Baker, a representative of Ørsted Onshore North America, joined the conversation. He explained Ørsted is a Danish energy company that is divesting of oil and petroleum holdings in favor of European offshore wind development and has created several wind power operations in North America. The company is presently researching the feasibility of building a wind farm in Edgar County from Kansas toward Garland and up to Hume.
The proposed site is still preliminary, and no applications have been submitted.
Baker described the county’s proposed revised ordinance as 98% in agreement with other county ordinances for wind farms, but the setback is an area of concern for the company to move forward with its efforts to develop a wind farm in Edgar County. According to Baker, the most common setback in Illinois is 1,500 feet, and the wind industry recommends setbacks at 2,000 feet or three times the tip height of the turbine, whichever is greater. Under this formula, a turbine with a 600-foot height when the blade is in a vertical position requires 1,800 feet.
“Three times tip height or 2,000 feet is sufficient to address real issues and not hypothetical concerns,” said Baker.
One such hypothetical concern he has encountered is wind turbines have a negative impact on ground water for wells. He said multiple studies have shown that is not true.
Board members expressed concern they do not have a sense of how the public stands on the issue of a wind farm in Edgar County. Both board members Andy Patrick and Karl Farnham Jr. said no one has contacted them to express an opinion either way.
Voigt has said at past meetings some landowners have told him they want turbines on their properties if the opportunity arises.
The lack of public concern is consistent with what Baker has encountered at other locations. He claimed 70 to 80% of the population is generally neutral on the issue while a minority are opposed. He also claimed those numbers generally do not change after the turbine field is developed.
There was also a question if there is reliable information from other counties about the
experience of having a wind farm and if that is a positive development. Voigt said the committee read through a great deal of material, but it must be taken with realistic dose of skepticism as such writing about the consequences is often shaded by the writer’s prejudices, either pro or con.
Visitor to the board meeting Bob Colvin provided some insight to public opinion. He said approximately 10 years ago Francis Associates, now Francis Engineering, assisted with preliminary work on a proposed wind farm in the Kansas area, and he estimated between 50 and 70 landowners signed initial agreements to have turbines placed on their properties. Colvin said a variety of reasons, including some state policy changes, prevented the development from getting any further than discussions.
Board members, Colvin acknowledged, are facing a difficult decision and one that requires them to look beyond personal opinion regarding alternative energy. He pointed out wind farms are a lucrative source of income for landowners and provide a new revenue tax stream for local governments.
“It’s an outside source of revenue for the county, and that is hard to find,” said Colvin.
Early numbers provided by Ørsted indicates construction of a wind farm could mean an influx of $20 million into the county during the building year through the creation of 300 to 400 temporary construction jobs, the purchase of concrete and other materials. A rough estimate for taxes puts the number at more than $10 million during the first 10 years of the wind farm operation.
Not all of that $10 million in taxes is for county government. Voigt said about two-thirds of the tax revenue would go to the Kansas and Shiloh school districts and the rest to various other taxing bodies including the county.
Baker said the potential for new revenue is one reason he hopes the county can resolve the new wind ordinance soon. Ørsted, he said, can spend between $5 and $10 million before construction starts.
“We want to make sure the local community is stable,” said Baker.
Board members are clearly divided on the issue. Voigt favors a setback of 2,000 feet, and board members Andy Patrick, Dan Bruner and Phil Ludington indicated they are leaning toward a 2,000-foot requirement. Board members Lisa Ellis and Russ Lawton favor the 3,250-foot distance. Board member Karl Farnham Jr. supports the 2,600-foot option.
“Fifteen hundred makes it easy for the company, but part of our responsibility is to look out for the people that don’t want them,” said Farnham. “Personally, I don’t want them in the county, but I’m willing to be reasonable.”
Ellis cautioned about the allure of wind farms as economic development.
“We always tell our kids just because somebody does something that doesn’t mean they should,” said Ellis. “Just because another area has a wind farm doesn’t mean we should.”
Ludington wanted more time to review the material and the proposed ordinance revision.
“There are a lot more questions than answers. Do people want it?” Ludington said, adding he is not opposed to a wind farm in principle. “Moneywise it is probably good for the county.”
Edgar County board members represent these voting districts: Ellis, Prairie, Ross 1 and 2 and Young America 1 and 2; Voigt, Brouilletts Creek, Embarrass, Kansas and Shiloh; Patrick, Buck, Elbridge, Grandview and Symmes; Farnham, Paris 3, Paris 4, Paris 14, Hunter and Stratton; Bruner, Paris 1, Paris 2 and Paris 11; Ludington, Paris 5, Paris 7, Paris 12 and Paris 15; and Lawton, Paris 6, Paris 8, Paris 9 and Paris 10.
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