DECATUR – It will now be up to the full Macon County Board to determine whether to allow the construction of more than 100 wind turbines.
After an hour of discussion from people on both side of the issue, the county's Environmental, Education, Health and Welfare Committee voted Thursday night to pass on a proposal for a wind farm in the northern part of the county to the full board at its Sept. 10 meeting.
The committee voted 4-1 with one “present” for 136 of the planned 140 wind turbines. Board member Grant Noland, one of the “yes” votes on the first measure, abstained from a second vote on four wind turbines that would be placed near his property.
The “no” vote came from board member Jerry Potts. Though he had previously supported the wind farm, he said after the meeting he did not approve of the location of some of the turbines near U.S. 51, as well as the planned 1,500-foot distance of the turbines from any residence.
“I wouldn't mind seeing them placed farther away, like 2,000 feet,” he said.
The would plan allow Twin Forks Wind Farm, a subsidiary of E.ON, the American unit of Germany’s largest utility company, to construct and operate up to 140 wind turbines across the northern part of the county near Maroa and Warrensburg.
Under the special-use permit, the wind farm will operate in Macon County for 30 years, with an estimated $46 million in new tax revenue generated over the life of the project, with much of it going toward the Maroa-Forsyth and Warrensburg-Latham school districts.
Unlike the usually quiet setting for the committee, Thursday night saw dozens of residents packed into the Macon County Office Building's conference room, many with green “yes” or red “no” wind farm stickers on their chests.
After handling normal business, committee Chairman Tim Dudley opened the floor to discussion on the wind farm, and residents took turns at the podium.
Paul Heft, road commissioner for the Austin Township, where many of the turbines would be constructed, said the potential flow of cash from the wind farm would be a boom for the county and the township. The latter was especially important to Heft, as he mentioned how the township has more bridges than any other in the state.
Several residents questioned the timing of the proposal going through the county's legislative process.
Alan Ruwe of Maroa noted how E.ON's initial application to the county for the plan was not released publicly until early this month, which he said did not give many people enough time to go over the full details and potential impact.
In addition, Ruwe said residents should be given enough time to take the application to “independent” experts in related fields that can review it.
Mark Kemp, of Latham, shared a similar sentiment.
“I don't think we're asking you to vote 'no' and stop this thing and throw it out the window,” he said. “But for those of us who live here, it feel it's getting pushed through here all of a sudden.”
Dudley, who voted 'yes' on the plan, said after the meeting that he understands the concerns of both sides and was grateful that people remained respectful.
Dudley said the committee vote was a matter of letting the full board make the final decision.
“There's pros and cons of this, and we're going to take both sides into consideration when we vote on it Sept. 10.”