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Wind farms: Proposed Ford County rules may drive them away

Two other wind-farm developers gave the board a similar admonishment ...The developers were responding to a straw poll that showed all 12 county board members supported restricting wind turbines from being any closer than 1,640 feet from the property lines of any land not being leased to a wind-farm operator.

PAXTON — The developers of three proposed wind farms in Ford County warned the county board this week that they may not be able to proceed with construction under even the least restrictive of proposed regulations being considered by the board.

"We want to build here, but if an ordinance is put in place that makes that impossible ... we will go elsewhere," cautioned Adam Renz of Houston-based Pattern Energy Group, developer of the Heritage Prairie Wind Farm in the Roberts and Piper City area.

Two other wind-farm developers — Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., and Orion Renewable Energy Group, headquartered in Oakland, Calif. — gave the board a similar admonishment during a four-hour special meeting.

The developers were responding to a straw poll that showed all 12 county board members supported restricting wind turbines from being any closer than 1,640 feet from the property lines of any land not being leased to a wind-farm operator.

Some members even want the minimum distance to be as large as 2,250 feet, if not 3,250 feet, to protect nonparticipating residents... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

PAXTON — The developers of three proposed wind farms in Ford County warned the county board this week that they may not be able to proceed with construction under even the least restrictive of proposed regulations being considered by the board.

"We want to build here, but if an ordinance is put in place that makes that impossible ... we will go elsewhere," cautioned Adam Renz of Houston-based Pattern Energy Group, developer of the Heritage Prairie Wind Farm in the Roberts and Piper City area.

Two other wind-farm developers — Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., and Orion Renewable Energy Group, headquartered in Oakland, Calif. — gave the board a similar admonishment during a four-hour special meeting.

The developers were responding to a straw poll that showed all 12 county board members supported restricting wind turbines from being any closer than 1,640 feet from the property lines of any land not being leased to a wind-farm operator.

Some members even want the minimum distance to be as large as 2,250 feet, if not 3,250 feet, to protect nonparticipating residents from the nuisances turbines can create, such as noise or shadow flicker.

"There are times it is loud," said board member Tom McQuinn, whose rural Paxton home is about 2,500 feet from a turbine. "It is extremely loud and obnoxious, and I personally could never vote to make someone live closer than 2,250 feet from one. ... We should be able to protect those who don't want anything right on top of them."

For the past year, ever since the board's zoning committee began discussing revisions to the county's ordinance regulating wind farms, developers have been asking for no greater than a 1,500-foot setback — and not from property lines but instead from "primary structures" such as homes. That is 500 feet larger than the setback currently required under Ford County's wind ordinance, which was enacted nine years ago.

The zoning committee eventually agreed on a setback from primary structures of 2,250 feet, or four times a turbine's tip height, whichever is greater. That recommendation was then considered this fall by the zoning board of appeals, which last month recommended a setback of just 1,800 feet.

Two county board members supported a 1,800-foot setback this week, with three favoring a 1,640-foot setback and seven agreeing on a 2,250-foot setback. While disagreement persisted on the appropriate number, all 12 agreed that whatever setback is enacted should apply to property lines, not primary structures.

The board's vice chairman, Chase McCall of Gibson City, called it a "no-brainer" to apply the setback to property lines, given the number of people who have complained about actual or potential problems with living too close to turbines in Ford County and elsewhere.

However, McCall said he could not support any setback greater than 2,250 feet because it would make construction of a wind farm extremely difficult, if not impossible.

"Anything more than 2,250 feet, you might as well just tell a wind developer, 'See you later,'" McCall said.

Wind-farm developers, however, later told the board that even a 1,640-foot setback from property lines could negatively impact their planned projects — perhaps even "killing" them.

'Extremely difficult'

Developers were also concerned about the results of a separate straw poll taken this week that showed the entire board supported keeping the maximum height of wind turbines in Ford County unchanged at 500 feet.

To accommodate larger, more efficient turbines they say will likely eventually become standard in the wind-energy industry, developers had previously requested the county revise its ordinance regulating wind farms to allow turbines as tall as 600 feet or even 650 feet.

However, county board members said too much remained unknown about the potential nuisances that 600-foot turbines could create. None have been built in the U.S. yet.

"Below 500 feet (for a turbine's maximum height) is going to make it extremely difficult to develop in this county, and the reason why is because that is going to force developers such as ours to use inefficient turbines which are going to make our projects uncompetitive economically, which means we're not going to have a customer to sell this to," said Michael Cressner, project development manager for Orion Renewable Energy Group, which is developing a proposed wind farm near Elliott.

"The more controversial (aspect), though, in what has been proposed is the 'structure' versus 'property line' setback," Cressner continued. "To be very clear, Orion Energy cannot develop a wind farm if your setback is 2,250 feet from a property line. We can probably do it from a primary structure, but from a property line it pretty much kills the project."

Cressner went on to say that even a setback of as little as 1,640 feet from property lines would likely make it "impossible for us to develop here in Ford County," since it would "wipe out the vast majority of our small landowners who are participating" in the project as a result of being too close to the proposed turbine locations.

'It can't be done'

Erin Baker, senior development manager for Apex Clean Energy, the developer of the proposed Ford Ridge Wind Farm in the Gibson City and Sibley area, warned the board that increased setbacks are not the only factor that could end up terminating a project. Besides greater setbacks, the board is considering amending its ordinance to reflect increased fees for construction permits and greater financial assurance required of developers to cover decommissioning costs, among other measures.

"No one thing might be the straw that breaks the camel's back," Baker said.

Tim Ryan, representing the Laborers' International Union of North America, said the county board's proposed restrictions would likely cause the county to lose out on the property tax revenue and the jobs that wind farms would bring.

"There's no wind farm in the state of Illinois that has ever been built with that type of ordinance enacted," Ryan said. "You will not find a single wind farm that was built under that kind of ordinance. It can't be done."

No decisions were made at this week's meeting. Instead, the county board made plans to schedule another meeting to further discuss the issues, with even more meetings expected to follow after that.

Board member Chuck Aubry of Gibson City noted that at least some progress has been made, saying: "We have a range (of possibilities) now that we can discuss."

"It's going to be a give-and-take," said board member Jason Johnson of rural Paxton. "Nobody's going to be happy through this whole process. We're not going to please everybody."


Source: http://www.news-gazette.com...

DEC 8 2018
http://www.windaction.org/posts/49231-wind-farms-proposed-ford-county-rules-may-drive-them-away
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