PAXTON — Members of the public on Monday night urged Ford County Board members to consider, among other measures, the need to increase the minimum distance that wind turbines can be located from homes.
Ann Ihrke, Cindy Ihrke and Ted Hartke addressed the board during Monday’s monthly meeting. A month earlier, the board placed a moratorium on granting any future wind farm permits until the county’s permitting ordinance, established in 2009, is reviewed and updated.
Ann Ihrke told board members that it was their duty to protect the “health, safety and welfare of all citizens of the county.” She presented board members with a packet containing a letter written by attorney Brent Holmes concerning many of the issues citizens have complained about, such as the inadequacy of the county’s 1,500-foot setback for non-participating landowners.
Numerous studies by independent professionals recommend a 2,500-foot setback between a wind turbine and the property lines, not the foundations of structures, of non-participating landowners, Ann Ihrke said.
Such studies also reveal numerous health problems when turbines are allowed too close to homes, including frequent sleep disturbances when sited closer than 2,500 feet.
Ann Ihrke also questioned whether the county’s ordinance governing wind farms adequately protects the county from liability if turbines need to be removed. She noted that there will be no new revenues generated for the purpose of demolition, adding that the county may be stuck having to pay for decommissioning if the companies that have owned and operated Ford County’s wind farms become defunct or bankrupt before turbines need removed.
Ann Ihrke said a $10,000 surety bond — the amount required for each wind farm owner to post as part of its special-use permit — only covers a fraction of decommissioning costs, which are now estimated at upwards of $250,000 per turbine.
“In a wind farm of 94 turbines, that leaves a potential liability of $23.5 million,” she said. “Even if the surety bonds are still solvent, that is still only $10,000 per turbine, leaving the potential liability of $22.56 million for the county.”
Ann Ihrke asked that the board take time to read in the packet she provided how neighboring Champaign County and other counties had solved the same problem.
Ted Hartke, a licensed professional land surveyor and licensed professional engineer in Illinois, said he has concerns about wind farms after living near a wind turbine in neighboring Vermilion County. He and his family moved due to problems with wind turbines being too close to their home, and they finally were able to sell their house.
Problems with television interference for residents living within the footprint of the Kelly Creek Wind Farm in the northern part of Ford County prompted the county board to implement its existing moratorium on approval of further special-use permits for wind farms.
Hartke said one person living in the footprint of the Kelly Creek Wind Farm relayed to him that he was not only having television reception problems, but that his wife was also having headaches and sleep issues.
“You guys already have problems,” Hartke told the board. “There is a safety manual that says in case of a fire or malfunctioning turbines, the employees of the wind company are supposed to run upwind a minimum of 1,640 feet. If my house or my land is within 1,640 feet from my property line to the wind turbines, that’s the distance they are to run upwind from. So if you are downwind, I seem to think that the distance should be about 2,000 feet.”
Hartke said that a doctor testified under oath in Illinois that the minimum distance from a wind turbine to a house should be a half-mile. A noise analysis of around 236 homes showed 232 houses protected and two unprotected at 3,200 feet, Hartke said.
“This testimony under oath shows that (3,200 feet) should probably be your limit,” Hartke told the board. “Setbacks probably should be based on health and safety instead of anything else.”
Hartke said it is not the board’s job to make a wind farm company profitable by allowing setbacks that conform to the company’s siting plans. Nor is it the board’s job, Hartke said, to help farmers make more money off of their land.
“Your only job as a county board is to protect all of your citizens,” Hartke said.
Meanwhile, Leo Weber, a road commissioner for Rogers Township, said there remain issues with the repair of roads used in constructing the Kelly Creek Wind Farm.
“We have a meeting set up to go back to our attorney to assess what our next steps will be,” Weber said, “and we look to the board to get any support they can extend our way to get this resolved.”
Weber said the owner of the Kelly Creek Wind Farm — EDF Renewable Energy — has “failed to uphold the road-use agreement” it made with his township and others.
“Roads that our school buses travel on are dangerous,” Weber said. “There are deep drop-offs where a truck got too far to the edge and rolled over. ... Five miles (of roads) in Ford County are not fixed correctly.”
Weber also told the board that as a taxing body, his township was given inaccurate information a year ago on the assessed valuation of land in the wind farm’s footprint. That error or omission, he said, cost Rogers Township $12,000 of revenue that it could have captured, and it cost the Tri-Point school district $44,000.