New bill may knock wind out of county governments

New bill may knock wind out of county governments

Some Illinois counties are objecting to a state senator's proposal to give the Illinois Department of Agriculture, rather than each county, the sole authority to regulate the siting, construction and removal of commercial wind turbines.

Senate Bill 3263, sponsored by John Sullivan, R-Quincy, would create the Wind Energy Facilities Construction and Deconstruction Act, which would invalidate counties' existing wind ordinances and transfer such regulatory responsibilities to the state.

Sullivan said he is aware that his bill, which is an initiative of the Illinois Farm Bureau, is not looked upon favorably by some counties, specifically those that want to retain local control over wind farms. Wind-energy advocates are also not supportive of the measure.

However, Sullivan thinks the change would help bring consistency to Illinois' wind-farm rules, which vary greatly by county. It would also provide legal resources and expertise to smaller counties that otherwise may be short-handed when drafting wind ordinances.

"The legislation is really trying to address what some people believe is an inconsistency from county to county with regard to the regulations for wind farms," Sullivan said. "The concern is that some of the larger counties, especially, have more resources available to their county boards to draw up their ordinances that regulate wind farms, while some smaller counties simply do not have the resources or expertise to draw up those ordinances."

Sullivan said his bill, assigned Feb. 25 to the Senate's energy committee, would allow the Department of Agriculture to create a "statewide standard" for a wind farm's siting, construction and removal while also requiring an operator to enter into an "agricultural impact mitigation agreement" stating how the land affected by a wind farm's construction and removal will be restored.

The law would apply only to wind farms not yet built or permitted by a county board.

The "most controversial" part of the legislation, Sullivan said, is that siting authority would be transferred to the state's control. That would include setting a statewide standard for the setback, or distance, required between wind turbines and homes.

Sullivan said counties would not be able to require more or less restrictive setbacks than those required by the state, but developers could voluntarily use larger setbacks than required. He also stressed that although his legislation does not specify what the statewide turbine setback would be, counties would be able to give their input whenever the Department of Agriculture sets its standards.

"There would be an opportunity for input from anybody in the state interested in the discussion," Sullivan said. "The department would do its own research, as well, looking at what we've done here in Illinois and looking at other states."

Differences of opinion

Ford County Board Chairman Rick Bowen and Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas both said they do not support the proposal because it would take away their respective county's authority.

Kevin Borgia, public policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a regional wind-energy advocacy group, mimicked their concerns, saying the legislation would "relegate the counties to an advisory role."

"We believe in local control, and we believe that local control should continue," Borgia said. "It shouldn't be a decision made by bureaucrats in Springfield or Chicago. The system currently in place is working better than any statewide system could."

Borgia noted that the state's wind farms have been built "safely and effectively without statewide regulations," and county regulations "are generally working well."

"There's variances between them, but the system generally works well in allowing the people closest to the project to have the final authority on whether the project is to be built," Borgia said. "It allows the community itself to decide if the community wants to welcome that wind farm into town. So if it's working, why change it?"

Borgia also questioned whether the Department of Agriculture actually possesses the resources and expertise needed.

"The state department of agriculture, which would have the authority to site a wind project, doesn't know anything about wind energy, and they don't really need that authority either," Borgia said. "They've never permitted wind projects, so we don't think they should be burdened with the authority to grant permits for wind projects, especially when the state is so broke."

Borgia also disputed the claim that some counties do not have adequate resources to draft effective wind ordinances. Borgia noted that Western Illinois University and Illinois State University regularly hold seminars "to educate county boards to understand the issues so they can effectively handle wind projects."

Also, if a county does not have the resources to hire an attorney, the developer of a wind farm often will offer to pay for an attorney who is chosen by the county, Borgia said.

Even opponents of the wind-energy industry object to the Sullivan's legislation.

"Mr. Sullivan apparently thinks local county officials are not smart enough to know how to regulate their own zoning," said rural Paxton resident Rich Porter, a member of Energize Illinois, a grass-roots organization that has protested the wind industry. "It's a power grab. It's unfair."

Bill Bodine, associate director of the Illinois Farm Bureau, said the legislation was prompted by bureau policy. Bodine said his organization's membership has developed a policy statement seeking legislation that establishes statewide standards for the construction and deconstruction of commercial wind-energy facilities.

"Sometimes in a county situation, counties may not have the resources or expertise, especially if they haven't dealt with wind farms previously," Bodine said. "The Department of Ag has resources to provide consistency for landowners around the state when it comes to siting issues."

Similar bills were introduced in the Legislature in the past by Sullivan and Sen. Mike Frerichs, but neither made it out of both chambers.

Specifics of the bill

If the proposed law is adopted, Sullivan said, the state, rather than counties, would issue permits for wind farms. Siting approval would require the construction plan to be compliant with the Illinois Pollution Control Board noise standards.

Each wind turbine's location would minimize shadow flicker at a residence or occupied building "to the extent reasonably practicable," the legislation reads.

The agriculture department would be required to notify the county where the wind farm would be built. The county board could then request that the department conduct a public "informational meeting" about the project, and then the county could submit a nonbinding recommendation to the department about the project's compliance with the state regulations.

Based on the recommendation, the department could later give the developer notice that its siting is approved.

The legislation would require a wind-farm operator to fully deconstruct the wind farm at its own cost, within 18 months of the end of the useful life of the wind farm. The company would be required, prior to construction, to file a report that spells out the estimated deconstruction cost per turbine and how the company plans to pay for it. The company would also need to file a reclamation bond to cover the anticipated costs. If the company fails to complete deconstruction, the department would be able to draw upon the financial assurance provided, the legislation says.

Each developer would also need to have an agricultural impact mitigation agreement in place with the Department of Agriculture, which would "address such items as access roads, construction staging and storage areas, excavation and backfill, protection of agricultural drainage tiles, wind turbine foundations, wind turbine erection, restoration of agricultural land affected by all construction and deconstruction, indemnification of landowners, monitoring and remediation," the legislation says.

Ford County Board sending letter to Senate panel

The Ford County Board is unanimous in its opposition to legislation that would give the state's agriculture department control over wind-farm regulation.

The board has also agreed to send a letter, drafted by Chairman Rick Bowen, to all 18 members of the state Senate's energy committee, explaining the reasons Ford County objects to the bill, which has been assigned to that committee.

"If we can act on it now, this bill may never see the light of day," board member Tim Nuss said. "If you've ever read over the bill ... it's a dirty bill, and it doesn't help any of us."

Nuss encouraged other Illinois counties to also state their opposition to the legislation.

"I don't see how any of us on the county board could ever recommend that power is taken away from us on a county level and be given to the people on the state level," he said.

In his letter, Bowen said he believes counties should "maintain the authority to establish standards for wind farms and electric-generating devices." He added that Ford County already has the same provisions in place that would be established at a statewide level if the bill passes.

"Ford County already has provisions for public informational meetings, final determinations related to approval of siting, and deconstruction activities," Bowen said.

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Bulldogmojo wrote on March 12, 2014 at 8:03 am

Religious wackos in the midwest will spend millions on putting up giant crosses you can see for twenty miles that do nothing but put a blight on the landscape yet object to windfarms that will improve their environment and provide energy. *Ugh!

Molly1 wrote on March 12, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Where was religion mentioned at all in this article?

This was an idea of a politician, apparently poorly recieved by everyone.

While a giant cross is one thing, visible from a similair distance as a wind turbine, there are differences.  As you mentioned, one produces energy, one doesn't.

But also, while a cross is static, a wind turbine is attached to equipment that some medical studies, and people living near turbines suggest produce a noise that can cause migraines, and whenever the wind is blowing there is no getting away from it.  Also for maybe an hour every morning and evening as the sun rises and sets, sometimes the shadow produced by wind turbines causes a strobing light effect to neighbors unfortunate to live too close to them.

I like wind energy, I like solar energy.  I believe that we should continue using all forms of energy while we are making improvements in cleaner, more efficient energy creators and energy users. 

Perhaps someday all our LED light bulbs will be powered by solar and wind energy.

And maybe one day we can cover the 198 foot tall Effingham, Illinois cross with black solar panels, producing gigawatts of electricity, and reminding the foolish  that there are higher powers in this world than human beings.

Danno wrote on March 16, 2014 at 7:03 pm

I beg to differ. Both sources produce energy. One is more easily observable. The other, not; somtimes called a 'noumenal thought.'

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 12, 2014 at 5:03 pm

I see it now... The Church of Endless Power.  Powered by the sun, driven by the wind, and worshiped by descendents of primates.  It will glow in the darkness, sound melodious in the wind, and form a circle much like Stonehedge.  It will be the perfect blend of techreligion.  The only question will be what symbol to place in the center.  Should it be a cross, a star, a crescent, or a giganitic mirror?

This law simply decreases the locals ability to object to wind farms in their backyards.  It places the decision in the hands of a state agency.  It, also, paves the way for more corporate and political corruption with less interference. 

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 13, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Maybe even power a free mental health facility where the rape victims of priests and ministers can seek treatment. The possibilities are endless...

Molly1 wrote on March 13, 2014 at 10:03 pm

I figure that probably 1/2% of each of each career participants are a child molester.  Doctors, nurses, firefighters, accountants, musicians, teachers, politicians, weather reporters, priests, postmen, used car salesman, astronauts, or dog groomers.  Every career path contains perversion and child abuse.  Only the main stream media pick and choose which careers are newsworthy to broadcast. 

How many people are killed in this country everyday, but the news showed George Zimmerman nationwide for over a year.  How many young women disappear every year without a trace, but the news focused on Chandra Levy for over a year, until 9/11 happened.

If you are listening to only one news source, or eclusively American news sources, without getting a balanced well-rounded set of data, then you don't know the whole story.

Religious are no worse than any other career path.  Any Intelligent person can figure that out on their own.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 14, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Molly;  I may be sarcastic at times regarding organized religion, but I do not knock others' individual religions.  Ignore Bulldogmojo's comments regarding religion.  He makes valid comments on other issues; but he has a negative opinion on individual religions especially Catholics.  Your comment regarding the other occupations is very valid.

The article addresses the loss of decision making at the local level regarding wind farms.  Investigating a county board member, or a village president for corruption is easier done at the local level where there is more transparency.  Investigating a state director, two directors, or governor for taking money in a "pay to play" scam is much more difficult.  Corporations are "people" now as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Big money donated by a PAC, or other front, can slip into a governor's pocket without much fuss.  It is much more noticeable at the local level.  Basically; this law would encourage more corruption with less accountability, and tell the locals that their concerns do not matter.

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2014 at 10:03 pm

yes molly ignore me...and I'll ignore your rationalizations of your acceptable margin of rape, I guess?

Sid, I am an atheist as you know and correct me if i'm wrong but didn't your second to last guardian of the white frock keep it secrect until only recently that he had defrocked over 400 pedophiles and their conspirators? Pretty sure that's a very high percentage of employees in your credulity factory. Look at the damage Jerry Sandusky did and he was just one guy multiply that times hundreds and then stand tall in your membership in such an organization.

Also my original comment was just to point out the irony of wasted dollars to put up structures that literally DO NOTHING like giant crosses unlike wind turbines, usually criticized by the right wing as a detriment to their "beautiful View" they are willfully contaminating with fracking and the like. You somehow have tuned this into a soapbox on your "right" to not have your religion criticized...You are living in the wrong age my friend.

Molly1 wrote on March 16, 2014 at 12:03 am

Bulldog, you were the one that brought religion into this story, when I read the article, I thought of clean energy, and the unseen effects of science sometimes.

When the internal combustion engine was created, everyone thought that it was a wonderful invention, only years later was the full effect of CO really brought into the light.

Aerosol spray cans, same story, loved by all until CFC's and the Ozone layer became all of the rage.

My statement was more of a let's continue to improve all energy methods, old ones like fossil fuels, and new ones.  Do not force the abandonment of one to bring in another which is less tried and true, and may hold complications of its own.  Encourage new energy methods, absolutely!  Cut down our energy usage as well.

Making up the "acceptable rape" story is kind of like you made up the connection between religion and power, both are completely embelished, not a part of the story, and a sad argument technique.  If you comment on a story, how about making the comment legitimately related to the story, instead of some kind of mindless rambling about unrelated topics?

I typically think of someone who believes that they know all, and that there is no higher power, like a teenager arguing with their parents.  Once a child matures somewhat, gets a job, starts a family, becomes educated in the ways of the world, they learn that their parents were not the ignorant individuals that they once appeared to be.  This has been happening for generations.

I think of aethists the same way, any being that believes that there is no higher power in the universe, appears to suffer the same sort of a complex in my opinion.  Only a fool believes that they are at the top of the totem pole. 

Makes me wonder, did the dinosaurs feel that way, the dodo bird, the buffalo, the Roman Empire? 

How many species have felt that they were the highest form of life, and ended up dying out because of such naivety?

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 17, 2014 at 9:03 am

Ah, Molly; now you have opened up another can of worms regarding teenagers, and parents with Bulldogmojo.  Don't get bogged down with someone else's baggage diverting the issue.  Bulldogmojo knows what the article is addressing.  He can stay on track if he chooses. 

Your right.  The article is regarding which governmental authority will decide where wind farms will be built.  Should it be a state agency, or a county board?  The locals should have the decision making in their home areas first, and last.  Wind farms, coal mines, aquifers, wildlife, and waste disposal should not be left up to the politically appointed, and corporations.

Molly1 wrote on March 12, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Well Sid, while I prefer to ignore the sarcasm of the first paragraph, your second paragraph is spot on.

Exactly, it is a state rep from 200 miles away saying that the best spot for a wind turbine is 15 feet outside of your bedroom window, and the county who should be much more familiar with the logistics and easier to schedule a face to face time with will lose any and all power to help you.

Some things are best handled locally, this should be treated almost like a building permit.  They are building something aren't they?

If the system ain't broke, don't 'fix' it!

Jim Wiegand wrote on March 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Folks had better pay attention............ With the wind industry is it has been rigged from the top down for decades and this proposed Bill is more of the same.       
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     For decades the wind industry has enjoyed their voluntary regulations and was deliberately set up this way in Washington. With these voluntary regulations Texas wind farms have been allowed to kill thousands of eagles over the last 25 years and they have only reported 1 eagle death. With these regulations not one whooping crane has been reported killed by a wind turbine; their population stopped growing years ago and now the FWS has stopped giving accurate population figures.

At one time this industry did not need permits for building in the habitat of eagles and endangered species, but now that the public is catching on to their fraudulent ways, permits are being required. But it is still all smoke and mirrors because there is there is no accountability to go along with these permits and the industry's studies are rigged. Any permit is still a free pass to kill because it only means that if word of a condor, a whooping crane or 50 dead eagles gets out, they will have their bases covered.

My specialty is wildlife and I can say and prove that the industry is clearly rigging their mortality studies. Eagles, birds, and bats at wind projects across the country are being slaughtered by the millions and the public will never be told the real number until there are regulations. Regulations would also expose to the world the wind industry's decades old mortality scam they have been putting over on the public.

Here is the industry's dilemma and why they are fighting regulations and local controls.............If a community demands accountability, a wind project will be not be built because this industry relies on fraud and no accountability to hide the magnitude of their wind turbine slaughter to protected species. 
The Wolfe Island wind turbines would have never been ever been built if it were made public that over 25,000 birds and bats would be killed each year.  The public would have been told that Snowy owls, eagles gyrfalcons and every other species using the habitat would be killed. Altamont pass was killing peregrine falcons and they kept this a secret for years.

Any communities that require that approval is based upon accurate (not rigged) current population studies, yearly mortality studies (not rigged with undersize search areas and lengthy search intervals) for the life of the project will not have to worry about wind project being built in their communities. In addition accurate (not rigged) cumulative impacts studies for the species being impacted with absolute mortality thresholds will also curtail any projects.

The reason is that these turbines will definitely slaughter off the local raptor and bat populations.

Goodhue County, MN won against this industry because they were unified and had a take-no-prisoners attitude about accountability. They were going to protect their eagles and other local species. They were not going to rely on rigged studies and they were going to monitor turbines with cameras. There would be no lying about the impacts and wind personnel could not hide bodies. In the end project developers had no choice but to pull out.

The industry is fighting very hard to put an end to any local controls so they keep the game rigged.

Molly1 wrote on March 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Interesting point which I admit I had never considered.

Birds fly into buildings sometimes, but at least that building isn't flying back, or swinging at the birds.

What would you suggest, placing a 'grill' around the wind turbines, like the protective shield placed around fans?

Considering the large cost on the wind turbines upfront, I would guess that for another 5 to 10% something could be placed around the large spinning blades that would still allow plentiful airflow, but prevent foul from flying in.  But it would have to be quite stury to hold the weight of birds and ice, and not allow the shield to impact the blades.

Interesting delima...