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Wind energy: Setback would be state’s longest

DIXON – Lee County may get the longest wind turbine setback distance in the state.

This week, members of a Lee County Board ad hoc committee recommended that turbines be 2,000 feet from nonparticipating landowners’ property lines.

Such a move would effectively shut out wind energy development in Lee County, one company says.

For years, Lee County has required wind turbines be 1,400 feet away from homes’ foundations. That’s also the rule in Whiteside County, which has no wind farms yet.

McLean County in central Illinois has the longest setback in the state, 1,500 feet from a home’s foundation, according to a summer 2011 study by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs.

Many other counties have setbacks of 1,000 feet.

Bureau County’s setback is 1,400 feet from a structure foundation, or 3.2 times from the tip of the turbine blade at the 12 o’clock position, whichever is greater.

In February, the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals finished a months-long process of drafting a new wind energy ordinance. It recommended a 1,400-foot setback from a home.

Officials from Hamilton and Willow Creek townships requested the county change that distance to 2,000 feet from property lines. They filed objections to the proposed ordinance, which means it would need a three-fourths majority for passage.

Last week, the Lee County Board formed the ad hoc committee to review the zoning board’s work.

At the committee’s first meeting Monday, it took no formal vote on the 2,000 feet. But members – with the exceptions of John Nicholson, R-Franklin Grove, and Ed Fritts, R-Dixon – generally agreed on that number, officials said.

John Martin, a senior project manager with Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power, said Tuesday that the 2,000 feet essentially is a ban on wind energy development. His company is planning a wind farm for Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties.

“It’s unfortunate that you have a few people hijacking the efforts of so many other people,” Martin said. “I’m confident that the county board will see through this as a wind ban.”

Hamilton’s opposition is based on Mainstream’s plans for turbines in that township. But Martin said his company also plans turbines for East Grove Township, which hasn’t filed a protest. He said the project is planned for a floodplain in the least densely populated part of the county. It would bring revenue to schools, townships and other taxing entities.

The committee’s chairwoman, Marilyn Shippert, R-Dixon, said Tuesday that the nine-member panel wanted more protections for residents. But she stressed that companies could build turbines closer through negotiations with landowners.

Charlie Thomas, R-Dixon, said property rights begin at people’s property lines.

“You can do what you want with your property, until you get to the point where you’re bothering someone else,” he said.

He noted the townships requested the 2,000 feet.

“We work for the people who tell us what they’re wanting. We don’t work for the windmill company,” he said.

The board’s vice chairman, Nicholson, said the 2,000 feet would shut down wind energy development in the county – an industry that provides jobs and tax revenue.

“I believe windmills should go where people want them,” he said. “We have to have development in this county.”

Thomas disagreed that the longer setback would keep out wind farms.

“(The setback) can be negotiated. There are a hundred different remedies. Like any other zoning ordinance, there are variances available. No one has their hands tied,” he said.

Mainstream’s representatives have attended every county meeting on wind energy for more than a year.

The committee plans to meet again Monday to discuss decommissioning of turbines. Such policies are designed to make sure wind turbines are taken down after they’re abandoned.

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