Will Libertyville set a precedent?

The public push for renewable energy solutions has quickly filtered into the business and personal market and more and more communities are finding themselves confronted with some of the same land use issues we see with utility-scale turbines. Establishing appropriate siting standards to address minimum lot size, maximum tower heights, property line setbacks, and noise levels are essential in ensuring adjacent properties are not harmed and the health and safety of the public are maintained.

In a few instances, communities made the conscious decision to move slowly, enacting moratoria until reasonable regulatory protections are developed. But this is not the norm. Rather, we are finding communities racing to adopt land use laws aimed at inviting the turbines but with little regard for the impacts. In an extreme example, the State of New Hampshire applied the heavy-hand of "governance" and imposed standards on its communities that prohibited "unreasonable limits" on turbine installations related to tower height, setbacks, and noise. In every case where regulations were pushed through to accommodate turbine use, including in New Hampshire, Windaction.org found little justification for the standards adopted.

This reckless approach to permitting small wind systems was certain to lead to a court case, and that's exactly what happened in Libertyville, Illinois.

The residents of Libertyville, IL have been struggling since April with the decision made by Libertyville officials to permit Aldridge Electric to erect a 50 kilowatt Entegrity wind turbine to help power the business. The 120-foot structure is located as close as 250-feet1 to a residential property. Despite assertions by Aldridge Electric and officials of Libertyville that the turbine would be quiet and blade/shadow flicker would not be a problem, in fact, the noise and other nuisances have proven unbearable to the neighbors.

In May, Chicago Attorney Richard Porter filed this motion on behalf of the residents seeking a temporary and permanent shut down of the turbine. He argues in the filing that procedural errors made by Libertyville officials in approving the special permit violated his clients' rights of due process and that the operating turbine has, and continues to endanger the health, safety, comfort and general welfare of the public.

Lake County Judge Mitchell Hoffmann, in his initial ruling last June, granted the injunction to turn the turbine off. Last week Judge Hoffmann issued his final compromise ruling where he confirmed the turbine was negatively affecting the neighbors and ordered that turbine operation be restricted to weekdays only during the hours of 9am to 3pm.

This action by the Illinois court should be applauded.

It remains to be seen whether the Illinois courts would consider similar action if the case involved an industrial wind facility and the opportunity for millions in county revenues at stake. We may find out soon enough.

A group of Illinois residents is suing Dekalb County over its recent decision to permit NextEra (formerly FPL Energy) to construct and operate a massive industrial-scale wind energy facility adjacent to their homes. Although the Dekalb County residents are not living with the impacts of the towers yet, they, like their counterparts in Libertyville, have fully documented procedural irregularities that paved the way for the project's approval.

1 A resident of Libertyville supplied Windaction.org with the corrected distance of 250-feet. 

JUL 29 2009
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