SPRINGFIELD — Some Douglas County residents will travel to Springfield on Thursday in hopes of testifying about proposed legislation clarifying zoning rules concerning wind farms. Specifically, the bill aims to officially establish that county wind-farm regulations would supersede township rules even in counties that have no zoning regulations.
"It's clearly aimed at Newman and Murdock townships," said Douglas County farmer Gary Luth, a member of the panel that wrote Newman Township's zoning regulations, which were recently adopted by unanimous vote.
He said besides Douglas, there aren't many counties in Illinois without countywide zoning, and as far as he knows, there's no similar situation in any of those other counties.
Newman Township's zoning includes more strict rules for wind farms than the countywide wind-farm provisions Douglas approved several years ago.
According to the Houston-based energy company EDP Renewables, the township zoning would make it impossible for the company to build its proposed 200-megawatt Harvest Ridge Wind Farm in northeastern Douglas County.
EDP has filed lawsuits in Douglas County court against Newman Township and nearby Murdock Township, which also enacted its own strict rules. In the complaints, EDP argues that the townships lack authority to adopt zoning in regard to wind farms, that the county's building-permit ordinance supersedes township zoning rules and that the townships' zoning rules are discriminatory, making wind-farm development impossible.
Illinois House Bill 2988, introduced Feb. 14 by state Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, would amend the Counties Code in Illinois, making county provisions "concerning wind farms and electric-generating wind devices applicable even if a county has or has not formed a zoning commission and adopted formal zoning," and it would clarify that "only a county may establish standards for wind farms, electric-generating wind devices, and commercial wind-energy facilities in unincorporated areas of the county outside of the zoning jurisdiction of a municipality and the 1.5-mile radius surrounding the zoning jurisdiction of a municipality."
The legislation would be effective immediately upon being signed into law.
The bill has been assigned to the House Counties and Townships Committee, and Luth said he hopes he can speak to that committee during its hearing Thursday at the Capitol.
He's not alone. Luth said he understands about 80 people have registered to speak regarding the proposed legislation.
He said he would like to give a brief history of the process through which Newman Township established its zoning. He said residents and township officials followed state statutes in voting to pursue zoning, writing zoning rules and enacting them.
"So I would simply ask the legislators to consider the democratic process," he said. "It's a good example of local authority and local people making local decisions that will impact them most."
Luth said he's not against wind energy in general, but he's an advocate for stricter regulations than the county has in place, like requiring wind turbines to be farther from residences and property lines.
He said he believes this new legislation has been introduced to ensure that the Harvest Ridge project proceeds as planned even if the company loses its case in court.
EDP hopes to begin construction on the wind farm this year, but it doesn't appear there will be a conclusion to either of the lawsuits anytime soon.
Springfield Attorney James Fahey, who is representing Murdock Township in its lawsuit, said the case is moving forward on the three complaints that still remain after a Douglas County judge dismissed some of EDP's complaints last week.
But the main arguments — whether the township has the authority to regulate wind farms, whether the county's ordinance supersedes the township's and whether the township zoning is discriminatory — remain.