Vermilion County considers establishing wind farm rules

Vermilion County considers establishing wind farm rules

DANVILLE – Vermilion County economic development officials are in talks with at least four companies interested in building wind-turbine farms in Vermilion County.

The county has no zoning system, but county board officials are taking steps to regulate the construction and operation of the alternative-energy farms by writing an ordinance.

"It's a safeguard for the landowners and the windmill companies," said Vicki Haugen, president and CEO of Vermilion Advantage. She added that multiple companies that make the wind turbines are considering the county as a possible location for a manufacturing site.

Todd Lee, director of business development and government relations at Vermilion Advantage, has been working on the development of wind turbine farms in the county, and he said an ordinance is very important in getting companies to build here.

Haugen said landowners need to be protected, and the companies need to know the expectations before making major investments.

"If the county's not successful in getting an ordinance, it's highly unlikely that we will see any of these firms making an investment," she said.

On Monday, the Vermilion County board's executive committee will discuss the ordinance, which county board officials are writing.

County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said he will be seeking authorization Monday to take the ordinance to the full county board for approval at its Dec. 1 meeting. He said executive committee chairman Bill Donahue, who is an attorney, is heading up the writing and will soon be meeting with other Illinois officials who have already been through this process.

McMahon said the ordinance will deal with land usage as it applies to wind turbines only.

"It's strictly dealing with one issue only," said McMahon, who believes wind farms would be good for the county, because they would help landowners, create jobs and bring in additional property tax revenue.

Lee said the state has already predetermined what rate the wind energy companies will pay in taxes per turbine across the state, so the companies are not taxed differently from county to county.

McMahon believes the county could see as much as $16,000 in additional revenue per turbine.

Horizon Wind Energy's Twin Groves wind farm east of Bloomington was a $600 million project that includes 240 wind turbines, 260 feet high with 135-foot rotor blades.

The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University has written, with the help of landowners and wind energy companies, a sample ordinance that demonstrates what should be stipulated and has been used as an example by other Illinois counties with wind farms.

Lee said such ordinances can stipulate many things, including the placement of the turbines in relation to roads and neighboring property owners and also may dictate the color of the turbines – usually white or grey – and safety features like high-voltage warning signs and much more.

Lee said the wind energy companies want parameters in effect, because the worst scenario for them would be to invest heavily in construction and then have the rules change.

"That causes a lot of headaches for everyone," he said.

Lee said he has been in contact with three wind energy companies interested in the county, and he believes two or three others have been in contact with local landowners. All the companies he's familiar with would lease property from the landowners.

One of the companies is Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, which has test towers collecting data where Vermilion, Edgar, Douglas and Champaign counties converge.

Curt Mettam of Mettam Safety in Danville owns property in that area, and one of the test towers has been on his land for almost a year. He said the tower automatically collects data on wind speeds and sends it to the Horizon office in Bloomington.

"I think it's a good deal for landowners," said Mettam, who's been told that a project likely wouldn't start in his area until 2010. Mettam also believes wind farms would be good for the economy, because they would create maintenance and construction jobs.

Lee said White Construction Co. of Danville is a leader in the construction of wind turbines around the country and provided some input in writing the county's ordinance.

Lee added that there appears to be little overlap in the areas that each wind energy company is considering for wind farms.

In addition to the moraine that runs through the south part of the county and extends into Edgar and Champaign counties where Mettam's property is located, Lee said the other good spots for wind farms include the California Ridge that runs from Newtown northwest toward Penfield in Champaign County and a moraine in the Rankin, Riley and East Lynn area.

"In 20 years, wind towers will be a very natural part of our landscape, as common as grain storage bins are today," Lee said. "From the federal and state level, there are a lot of incentives to push us toward more wind energy."

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