Wind-farm developer moving ahead despite Newman Township vote

Wind-farm developer moving ahead despite Newman Township vote

NEWMAN — Developers of a wind farm in Douglas County expect to apply for a county permit by the end of summer to begin construction early next year on a 200-megawatt wind project that could be operational by the end of 2019.

Nothing is on hold, according to Amy Kurt, project manager for EDP Renewables' proposed wind farm, which would be the first in Douglas County.

She was one of about 200 people who attended Tuesday night's special meeting in Newman, where residents voted 86-57 in favor of enacting zoning ordinances in Newman Township in the northeastern part of the county, mostly to fight the proposed wind farm. Most of the 50-60 turbines in the project would be in that township, Kurt said. The rest would be to the west in Murdock Township, where residents are set to vote Tuesday on enacting township zoning ordinances.

Newman Township residents on both sides of the issue spoke Tuesday night before casting votes, and the debate focused on wind farms.

Supporters of enacting zoning ordinances said they believe it can help further regulate wind farms — for example, by increasing the 1,000-foot setback between a turbine and the foundation of a house in the county's current regulations. Opponents of the wind farm, like Paul Freebairn, have tried to convince county officials to make changes to its 2009 ordinance in anticipation of wind-farm development.

Similar battles are being or have been waged in other East Central Illinois counties such as Champaign, Vermilion and Ford, where the possibility of the county's zoning committee changing the wind-turbine setback to 1,500 feet has stirred opposition among some residents who think that's too close.

One is Ted Hartke, who said he and his family left their Vermilion County home because of noise and other issues with a nearby turbine in the California Ridge wind farm, which stretches from northeastern Champaign County into Vermilion County. He has pushed Ford County officials to adopt a 3,000-foot-plus setback.

And Freebairn said after Tuesday night's vote in Newman that he believes setbacks for the Broadlands project in Douglas County should be at least 3,000 feet, because turbines can pose a danger to residents in the event of a fire, for example. He said he has voiced his concerns multiple times to Douglas County officials, including last week to the plat and planning committee, which proposes changes in county ordinances.

At that meeting, Douglas County Board Chairman Don Munson said the committee decided and made it known that it was not going to forward any requests for changes in the 2009 wind-turbine ordinance to the county board.

"We just didn't feel it would be fair at this late date for this particular project," he said. "It wouldn't be fair to change it, because then you would be actually looking like you are favoring one group over another."

He said residents have already signed leases with this company.

"And (the company) has been acting in good faith according to the ordinance as it now stands," he said.

Munson estimated that if EDP Renewables submits its permit application by the end of the summer, a permit could be issued by the end of October.

"That's just a guess," he said. "At this point, we are just sitting back and letting the process play itself out."

Newman Township resident Jim Biddle said at Tuesday's meeting that he opposed enacting zoning ordinances because he's in favor of the wind farm. He said there's a possibility his property could get one turbine, and he believes the tax revenue it would bring into the area is a huge opportunity for schools and other taxing bodies.

He said he's not sure how the Newman Township zoning process will play out. As a result of Tuesday's vote, township trustees must appoint five residents to a committee to draw up zoning ordinances that will be submitted to trustees for consideration. Biddle said finding five people unbiased on the issue may prove difficult. But he is sure the wind company will forge ahead.

"I'm sure the company, with having $10 million invested, they're not just going to close the doors," he said.

Kurt said the $10 million is for a variety of prep work, like taking soil samples; engineering and design work; and reaching agreements with local grid operators and utilities who will connect the project to the grid and property owners who are leasing their land; and more.

"There were a lot of people who showed up to vote against zoning, and people who spoke in support of the wind farm and the benefits it will bring to the community, and I think there are a lot of people in Newman who are excited about the investment that this wind farm will bring to this community and the opportunities that will come along with it," Kurt said.

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