County plan panel listens to residents voice safety, health concerns
SYCAMORE – Rick Cashen, a current Lindenwood resident and former resident of DeKalb County, said he had no idea that the home he bought in 2011 soon would have a 145-foot wind turbine nearby, which also happened to be 250 feet away from a school building. He said the previous owners of the Lindenwood house said nothing about the turbine, nor did anyone in the community, before he moved in.
The tower near Eswood Elementary School in Lindenwood was supposed to be a way for the school to operate off the grid. Cashen said it ended up malfunctioning more often than not, and there were so many complaints that the school couldn’t keep track of them all.
One day, Cashen said, the turbine was struck by lightning, started to operate out of control and began to fall apart, posing enough of a safety hazard that the students were evacuated from the building.
“This could happen to any turbine,” Cashen said. “One lightning strike is all it takes.”
Cashen was one of more than a dozen people who addressed the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning Committee during its meeting on turbine setbacks Wednesday at the Legislative Center, 200 N. Main St.
The County Board is crafting an ordinance on wind farms after approving a solar power ordinance that went into effect April 1. The board passed a moratorium last year on the wind project development for 18 months, or until an ordinance for similar projects is in place.
Considering the effects of a 145-foot tower, Cashen asked the committee to imagine the potential risks of 500-foot towers such as the ones that EDF Renewables wants to install in northern DeKalb County. He said they produce 10 times more power than the Lindenwood school tower and with that comes 10 times the noise and other potential risks.
“There’s no free lunch in physics,” Cashen said.
Others who addressed the board mentioned concerns about shadow flicker during the day, lights on the towers flashing at night, sound emissions from operating towers and the effect the towers would have on property values of residents not participating in a contract with EDF Renewables. Some shared their own experiences, such as homeowners insurance not covering turbine effects and not being able to keep their windows open because of the turbines’ noise.
County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski, D-District 3, said the committee appreciated hearing the concerns and experiences of those who came for public comment. He said he wasn’t necessarily concerned about approval percentages of county voters surveyed about the project, but he wanted to do due diligence in making sure everything is considered.
“We wanted personal experiences,” Pietrowski said. “And that’s what we’re getting here,”
Malta resident Lisa Bergeron spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting about setbacks. She provided 6-inch-thick binders of peer-reviewed research to committee members, along with flash drives containing spreadsheets of additional data.
Bergeron said the main focus of the research she provided was to provide information to help create setbacks for wind turbines.
“It really seemed to me that health research should define the setbacks,” which included shadow flicker and sound emission concerns, Bergeron said.
Based on the research she found, Bergeron said, she gave the recommendation of wind turbine setbacks for nonparticipating residents to be more than 6,000 feet for 500-foot towers and anywhere between 3 to 5 miles away from roads, schools, municipalities, forest preserves and wildlife.
P.J. Saliterman, development director of EDF Renewables, said he was glad to see the focus on data, science and facts during Wednesday’s meeting. But, he said, those types of setbacks from property lines that Bergeron proposed are not workable for the proposed project.
Saliterman said all Illinois counties with wind farms have more manageable setbacks of 1,500 to 1,750 feet. He said the noise and shadow flicker effects are minimal beyond 1,500-foot setbacks.
“There is not a single land use that has to adhere to that standard,” Saliterman said.
Brad Belanger, chairman of Concerned Citizens for DeKalb County, said he felt there was some good dialogue and information shared with all sides during the meeting, especially regarding setbacks.
“Setbacks are going to be the heartbeat of the ordinance,” Belanger said.
Committee members agreed to meet through the county government’s summer recess to try to develop a skeleton of the ordinance sooner rather than later – which, Belanger said, he’s excited about.
“It shows the commitment they have to get this done and that they care about how this will affect everyone,” Belanger said.