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The Piatt County Board has declined a special use permit for a 300 MW wind farm that was proposed to be located in Goose Creek, Sangamon and Blue Ridge townships in northern Piatt County.
“We were elected by the people in our various districts to do what is best for our constituents,” said District One Board Member Jerry Edwards, who voted against the project. “I have heard from a lot of residents of Piatt County and for the vast majority, this is something they do not want.”
In September, Apex Energy filed an 1,800-page special use permit application with the county. Developers hoped the project would begin construction in the first quarter of 2023. Apex has already ordered 50 V162-6.2 MW turbines from Vestas, a wind turbine manufacturer.
The board voted 3-2 against the permit. District Two Board Member Michael Beem and Board Chairman Todd Henricks voted in favor, citing new state legislation that takes control away from the county is such decisions as the reason.
District Three Board Member Paul Foran and District One Board Member Kathleen Piatt also voted against the project. District Two Board Member Gail Jones was not in attendance.
Earlier, the Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals met for 17 nights, listening to testimony from more than 60 witnesses. They forwarded the proposal to the county board without a positive recommendation.
The new state legislation will change the way the wind farms are approved, taking away much of the power of county boards to decide on the project.
The legislation is intended to provide counties with “guardrails” for sighting wind farms, and would better align the state with its renewable energy goals, sponsors of the legislation said.
It stipulates that the State of Illinois will develop a commission that will oversee and approve wind turbine siting everywhere but Chicago.
Counties would retain the ability to have an up or down vote on the project once presented, but if the project is within the state guidelines, any county rejection would trigger a lawsuit against the county that would generally favor the wind turbine company.
Piatt’s vote was the swing vote and prior to the roll call vote, she had given indications that because of the state legislation, the county had little choice in the matter anyway.
“We are in a tough spot,” she said. “The new law removes the ability of the county to have authority over the decision.”
“I feel like if we vote with our hearts, it will go one way, and if we vote from another way, maybe logically or from a 30,00-foot level, it will go another way,” Foran said. “A lot of good would come to the area from a project like this, but there would also be a lot of bad for the locals. It’s not fair what the state has done, but that’s Illinois.”
Henricks said he voted in favor of the project because of the state legislation.
“After the end of the ZBA hearings, I was as solid as a no vote as I could get,” he explained. “There was no way in hell I would have been on the side of 610-foot towers. But then that fat man from Chicago (Governor JB Pritzker) stirred the pot and fast-tracked a committee on a vote on wind turbine and solar legislature in a lame duck session and that led the way for the county board to become irrelevant I will probably be supporting this but it breaks my heart. They are ugly as sin and I am sorry.”
Despite the negative vote, the project is not necessarily dead.
Apex has the right to resubmit the special use permit, although the county has placed a moratorium on such applications until Sept. 1.
“This isn’t over,” said Apex Clean Energy Senior Development Manager Alan Moore. “We have options. We thought this was a great opportunity for Piatt County to invest in its future, but this isn’t over and we look forward to taking the next steps.”
“It is incredibly disheartening that our application has not passed, for our staff, the many participating landowners whose property rights are being infringed, and for the community at large. Despite more than four years of work in good faith with the community to develop a transparent, collaborative project; despite a comprehensive, 1,600 page application that reflected years of careful study which met or surpassed every standard laid out in Piatt County’s rigorous wind ordinance; and despite continued effort as recently as the last few weeks to address concerns raised during the ZBA process.
“Apex has made every effort to ensure Piatt County’s concerns are met and to make this the best fit possible for the community. We will evaluate all of our options to determine the best path forward for the project.”
Prior to the vote, the board approved a $10 million revenue sharing agreement with Apex, that if approved, would have provided the county with $2 million after the approval of building permits, and an additional $8 million once the project went on-line. That deal is now voided since the project was declined.
Proposed road use agreements that were finalized earlier this month, were also approved, but now, will not be enacted.
An advisory referendum on wind farms in Piatt County also appears on the April 4 ballot.
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