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October’s hallowed wind(farms)?
By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
As the days of the hallow coldly or warmly sweep toward us, will we choose “Trick or Treat” and Halloween or All Saints’ Day? Wind farms in Winnebago County are going before the county board for what will probably be a final vote Oct. 22. It is hoped the legacy of that vote won’t haunt proponents and opponents alike. Hope, double-edged, swings both ways, like some pretty apples have razor blades, and all candy is not sweet or good for anyone.
After much soul-searching as an advocate of both growing our needed renewable energy and protecting our honey pot of the environment, I have chosen to be an opponent of the proposed wind ordinance. I make this choice mainly because of the “back-room” way it has been drafted. I’m really sick of the cowardly darkness of the “behind-the-scenes” smugness emanating from those who must creep away before the fair input of the public sun can rise. Despite their political pretenses, they drain energy and our future quality of life, rather than renew our wherewithal and protect our powerful natural resources.
Without going into an extended history of the entire process, consider the most recent development of this ordinance.
υ At both the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the week before the last county board meeting Oct. 8, Navitas/Gamesa wind farm representatives presented one item that was a text amendment to the ordinance as it had been drafted by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and the Zoning Committee.
υ Very importantly, they also presented another item that was a bird migration map of the state of Illinois to both caucuses. Navitas/Gamesa confirmed these items were presented, saying the map would be provided to this paper; as of deadline, the map has not been received.
These two elements stand as a no-chance-for-public-input presentation of new evidence!
First, the text amendment was not presented to the ZBA or the Zoning Committee. Although compromises are being worked on, again behind the scenes, that may change.
An Oct. 7 public e-mail bulletin from the Green Communities Coalition (GCC) pointed out how most of the environmental protections were being deleted (e-mail posted in “Online Exclusives”). The GCC’s call to action hit the mark about Navitas’ proposed text amendment. I’ve never been prouder of the GCC for the firm stand and fine example of free speech this e-mail represents. Brilliant! Bravo! Everyone who has ever complained that the environmental community remains too silent on controversial environmental issues should congratulate them on this, and encourage them to do more of the same consistently! Of course, we all should still reserve the right to engage in critical thinking about any group.
Of course, again, any text amendment may be presented to or made on the floor of the county board. In the light of the public’s right to know, that should be a more public process, and the county board acted very wisely in laying this text amendment over until the Oct. 22 meeting.
As the GCC urged, call your county board member and demand they protect the environment. Specifically, ask them for a shutdown period for windmills during the heavy migration period and during Operation Migration ultralight training flights through the vicinity of the Four Lakes and Pecatonica Wetlands forest preserves. This year, for the first time ever, 350 white pelicans came to the Natural Land Institute’s Nygren Wetland outside Rockton. I’ve only seen those in the Horicon Marsh. For eco-tourism and our growing natural resources, call all the county board members (Go to “Contact your elected officials” at on our Web site).
Primarily mention the definite new evidence embodied in the presentation of the migration map. Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) argued to me that if we paid attention to that map, we couldn’t put a wind farm anywhere in the entire state. Hummm. A bit extreme, but Navitas presented it as a scare tactic. They did not present the map to the ZBA, open to cross-examination at those hearings and further comment by the public. According to the zoning codes, only that evidence may be considered by the Zoning Committee and, therefore, voted on by the full board. Since both caucuses were open, public meetings, after the ZBA hearings and without presentation to the Zoning Committee, according to zoning codes, the whole ordinance should be sent back to the ZBA. If not, the county board opens us all to a lawsuit. The litigation can rightfully assert zoning codes and procedures were violated since the caucuses together comprise the county board.
Seward Township has filed a legal objection to the wind ordinance, standing firm on the principle that each siting of a windmill should require a special-use permit, not a general “put-them-anywhere-with-no hearing-for-the-environment-or-neighbors” permit. No hearing was held for counterpoints and map realities made by Navitas’ presentations to the caucuses. Again, BRAVO to Seward Township! They are a fine example of why we should not ever vote townships government out because they are another layer of unnecessary government. Seward, and many times Rockton township, have demonstratively shown their grassroots layer of government is closest to the people and the heart of the democratic process. After pressure from some land-owners who want wind turbines and county officials, Seward held a hearing to reconsider their legal objection. They stood their—and our—collective ground, and did not withdraw the legal objection. BRAVO! Because of their courage, a super majority vote by the county board is still required, at least 21 of 28 votes, to pass the wind ordinance.
Of final concern is what will happen if these wind farms ever change hands, or if another company not environmentally conscious wants to build some more? Who knows?
As one source e-mailed me: Navitas/Gamesa has a habit of selling U.S. wind sites to Babcock and Brown when completed. Babcock and Brown is going out of business as of August. Seems BB sold some of their wind assets back in June, see links below. Gamesa/Navitas develops wind farms in U.S., sells to energy investment firm. Energy investment firm collapses, selling assets to a small spinoff (Pattern Energy) of another energy investment firm. All this in 10 years. What will happen in 25 years? (Web sites cited in e-mail posted in “Online Exclusives”)
Boone County knows the future is uncertain, and they require special-use permits with hearings. Reportedly, even though wind farms are now in Stephenson County, the settlement of a lawsuit will require special-use permits. Those are the counties to the east and west of us.
Our proposed general-use permits with no hearings would make Winnebago County a movie set for the wind industry. Without special-use permits and strong environmental ordinance provisions, get ready for The Nightmare West of Meridian Road, complete with 5-megawatt, flashing red lights blasting the starlight and country-side atop up to 400-foot towers. Navitas’ own literature says their proposed (the name makes me laugh) “Whispering Prairie Wind Farm” for northern Illinois will have 100 turbines. SHOUT!
For our few remaining prairies, SHOUT you want special-use permits and public hearings. Protect your free speech! SHOUT you want our Greenways Plan, the NRI and 2030 Comprehensive Land-Use Plan and all of our wildlife and natural habitats protected. SHOUT your support for all the people in the GCC and Seward Township. We must come together as one voice.
Hauntingly, this wind ordinance will be the model for the state and, really, the whole nation. Only a very few such ordinances exist. Winnebago County is setting a huge legal precedent. Will our reputation be known as “Trick or Treat” for the wind industry, or All Saints day for all of our citizens and lands?
From the October 14-20, 2009 issue