Political Winds: Wind Farm Regulations Continue to Stir Up Controversy | By Gordon Hopkins | The Fairbury Journal-News | March 22, 2022 | fairburyjournalnews.com
A meeting was held at the Jefferson County Courthouse on Tuesday, March 22, to further discuss wind farm regulations in Jefferson County. The meeting was held in the county courtroom, rather than the commissioners meeting room, to accommodate the anticipated crowd.
Landowners Hire Attorney
A group of landowners concerned about proposed changes to regulations governing wind farms in Jefferson County have retained the services of attorney Scott Gropp of Gropp Law and Mediation, LLC, a law firm based out of Wilber.
Gropp is no stranger to Jefferson County. He is currently under contract with the county as the public defender. Gropp indicated to FJN there is no conflict of interest that arises from his contract with the county.
On Monday, March 14, Gropp sent an email to Jefferson County Commissioners, the county clerk and the county attorney, which states in part, “This office represents a number of Jefferson County landowners and citizens who are concerned about certain changes currently contemplated by Jefferson County regarding the Jefferson County Commercial Wind Energy Conversion Systems (herein after referenced as CWECS). My clients ask that you consider the entire scope of wind energy benefits and detriments as you prepare to vote on said changes.”
Gropp noted, “The concept of renewable wind energy is not at the heart of the matter before you. Almost no one denies that finding additional methods of producing clean energy for our country is a noble goal and should be examined on a regular basis, especially with daily advances in science and technology. The concern of my clients is that any energy production in Jefferson County does not have long lasting, irreparable damage caused by parties who provide to the Board of Commissioners misleading information to enrich themselves and their companies.”
FJN asked Gropp what was the nature of the services he was providing and if it included any possible litigation. Gropp responded, “I would note that I do not discuss my scope of representation in any matter.”
Extending the Moratorium
Gropp has requested, on behalf of his clients, that the current moratorium preventing consideration of any new wind farm applications be extended while further research is done.
The moratorium, which has been in place for six months, was first established by commissioners on September 15, 2021, and has already been extended once, by a month.
Although wind farm regulations were not on the agenda, several people showed up to discuss the matter at a county commissioners meeting on Tuesday, March 15.
County commissioner Mark Schoenrock said, “If we were to extend the moratorium, we would have to figure out the length of that moratorium, so that a fair, accurate and thorough study could be made, going to the appropriate process that addresses the interests of all parties that are part of that process, both those who would like to have wind and those who are opposed to it.”
Schoenrock added, “I have heard that message a number of times, that more study is needed in this.”
David Levy, an attorney with Baird Holm LLP, which represents NextEra Energy Resources, spoke at the meeting. NextEra is the company that owns the Steele Flats wind farm in Steele City and hopes to erect more wind turbines in the county. Levy pointed out that there are a number of individuals who support wind farms and wish to participate and have been forced to wait, “They want to put their land to this use voluntarily. Other people in the county want to do that as well.”
“You do have a very hard job that’s neither an art nor a science. It’s certainly a challenge,” Levy said about the commissioners’ decision. “But please, as you’re doing that, try and tune out the hyperbole and think about the property rights and the facts and the evidence they have before you. You could extend the moratorium certainly, that’s what’s in your purview. If you were to do that, I would encourage you to do it for a very short time. Because again, you have people who want to put their land to this use. Remember them, as well.”
Levy added, “But extending the moratorium for the sake of extending the moratorium, and with all respect, putting off a difficult decision like we all do, sometimes, I would discourage you from doing that.”
County commissioners have reported receiving hundreds of phone calls since a hearing on March 1 about the regulations. Schoenrock said, “I bet I’ve talked to close to 300 people in the last two weeks. My life has not been my own.”
They have also been presented with printed research. Commissioner Michael Dux said, “We got over 2,000 pages two weeks ago.”
Like any controversial subject, there is a great deal of information available online. There is also a great deal of misinformation and disinformation.
David Duis of Diller asked about the ownership of the company, “I read that it was owned by a European company.”
“In no way do I see that that’s relevant to a land use decision,” said Levy. “But NextEra is a publicly traded company. It is an American company.”
NextEra is headquartered in Juno Beach, Florida.
Another issue raised is property value. According to Brian Weishahn, who lives south of Plymouth, property values go down when wind turbines are constructed, “There’s studies that have been done on property values on the effect of property values.”
However, Levy disputed this and pointed to Steele Flats as an example. He told commissioners, “You have a study in your materials of actual property values in and around the Steele Flats project that shows that the project did not affect them. Properties within, nearby to the project changed in value at the same rate as properties all over Gage and Jefferson counties.”
“You have some of the best evidence in the state with Steele Flats. You have people you heard from a lot of people in the hearing in the courtroom, who live in and around that project, people who benefit from it directly financially and people who don’t. And they said they would like to see more wind energy development in Jefferson County,” said Levy. “And the property value information that we put together, and it’s in your packet is actual data from the assessor’s records over the time since that project came into play.”
Weishahn said, “If you look at the number of towers built, you can see which party is in charge. There’s a lot of towers built this year, this year, this year, and then none. So it’s a political thing. So the political winds can change.”
Again, Levy disputed that assertion, “It was a Republican administration that passed the production tax credits for the first time. There was a Republican in the White House. So who’s in the White House and who’s not, I don’t know that it’s relevant to the discussion, really.”
URL to article: https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2022/03/23/political-winds-wind-farm-regulations-continue-to-stir-up-controversy/