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Change in air for windfarms

With a six-month moratorium on accepting wind farm applications coming to a close, the Edgar County Board acted Wednesday, June 9, to approve an amended Wind Energy Conversion System ordinance.

The revised ordinance retains a 3,250-foot setback from primary structures that was passed as a stopgap measure in November when the moratorium was set in place. When the three-member committee doing the revision work on the ordinance presented its report in May, it did so without a consensus on the setback. At that time, county board chairman Jeff Voigt favored 2,000 feet, board member Lisa Ellis wanted to keep the 3,250 feet and the third committee member John Chittick was in the middle with 2,600 feet.

Several residents of Edgar and Douglas counties attended the board’s study session Monday, June 7, and the regular board meeting Wednesday to voice opposition to a wind farm development in Edgar County.

Ørsted Onshore North America, a Danish energy company, has been approaching landowners and researching the feasibility of a wind farm stretching from near Kansas in an arc to Garland and back north toward Hume. No application from Ørsted is pending for approval due to the moratorium.

“In the last couple of weeks, I have sought comments,” Voigt said before opening the floor to public comment Monday. “I have found nobody in my district that supports wind farms.”

He added as a result of the conversations he was changing his position in favor of a 3,250-foot setback from primary structures like homes, roads and other pieces of infrastructure. The setback will not apply to an isolated machine shed or gran bin without a nearby house.

The other board members voiced support for the longer setback.

“I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and unsigned letters. I didn’t pay any attention to those letters,” said Phil Ludington, acknowledging he did not find any local support for a wind farm in Edgar County.

A total of 13 people spoke against the wind farms during the two board sessions. Most of the comments raised allegations of health risks from noise, flashing lights interrupting sleep, fear of loss of property value, the unsightly nature of the towers, disruption to farming from damaged tiles and posing unspecified risks to the continuation of family farms. Some speakers presented petitions opposing either the 2,000-foot setback or a wind farm development.

Two Ørsted employees spoke in favor of wind turbines during the Wednesday morning session and an Illinois State University professor of economics, retained by Ørsted, claimed a potential $50 million tax benefit to the county over the lifetime of a windfarm’s operation.

Some of those speaking against the turbines suggested the county board reject the wind farm ordinance the committee spent almost 18 months researching and substitute an ordinance banning wind farms in Edgar County. One of the speakers, Kirk Allen, disagreed with that position. He claimed an ordinance prohibiting wind farms cannot pass legal scrutiny, and it is better to have an ordinance that strikes a balance of permitting a wind farm while offering protections to residents.

“We need an ordinance,” said Allen. “If we don’t have one, developers can do whatever they want.”

Voigt reminded all present at the Wednesday meeting the county has had a wind farm ordinance since 2009, but it had a setback requirement of only 1,000 feet.

“We realized that was inadequate,” Voigt said, explaining the small setback was one reason the county board wanted to update the ordinance.

Prior to the vote, Ludington told of visiting Douglas County residents living near the wind farm in the Newman area.

“It comes down to one thing,” said Ludington. “The only thing wind turbines offer is money. Is money more important than quality of life?”

The county board unanimously voted for the updated wind farm ordinance, including the requirement for a 3,250-foot setback.

In a related matter, the board also passed a resolution declaring a moratorium on solar energy farms in Edgar County until Dec. 8, and appointed board members Lisa Ellis, Russ Lawton and former board member Derrick Lorenzen as a solar energy committee. The committee is tasked with writing an ordinance, similar to the wind energy ordinance, that regulates the development of commercial solar energy farms in Edgar County.

Voigt briefly discussed Senate Bill 1602 which is moving through the legislative process in Springfield. If it passes, state law, not county ordinances, establishes the setback distance among other regulations pertaining to wind farm development.

“If it passes what we did here means nothing,” said board member Karl Farnham Jr.

Edgar County is among 70 of the state’s 102 counties that have passed resolutions opposing SB 1602. Voigt added it is not enough for people to contact local legislators if they oppose the bill. It is also important to get that information to the leadership – those members who control which bills come up for a vote and tell members how to vote.

Local legislators are: Senator Chapin Rose, www.senchapinrose.com; Senator Darren Bailey, sendarrenbailey.com; Rep. Brad Halbrook, www.rephalbrook.com; and Rep. Chris Miller, www.repchrismiller.com.

Legislative leaders are: Senate President Don Harmon, donharmon.org; House Speaker Chris Welch, 249-E Stratton Office Bldg., Springfield 62706; Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, senatorlightford.com; House Majority Leader Gregg Harris, gregharris.org; Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, senatormcconhie.com; and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, 316 State Capitol, Springfield 62706.