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Guest Column: Grasping the big picture

January 25, 2012

• ‘Big Wind’ controversy continues in surrounding counties

By Bob Logan
Franklin Grove Resident

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals met Friday night, Jan. 20, to discuss setbacks, the issue all other industrial wind turbine regulations rest upon.

None could say why 1,400 feet, the current setback from non-participating property foundations, is appropriate, but that’s the number Florida Light and Power provided when supplying conditions Lee County adopted for its first turbines.

Setbacks are imposed to alleviate nuisances and protect people and nature. Two years of testimony have provided ample justification for longer setbacks to no avail. Industrial wind turbines are permitted as a special use on property zoned Ag-1, a concession permitting activities not normally allowed that affect surrounding properties. Granting special conditions use is a privilege given, not a demandable right.

Current sound thresholds came from recommendation of GSG wind company; proposed decommissioning, noise and flicker standards come courtesy of Ireland’s Mainstream Renewable Energies, the firm seeking to build wind turbines across Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties. Anyone see a pattern?

Wind industry is being allowed to develop across the United States with few state or federal regulatory fetters and fewer regulations based on empirical studies. Turbines reach the field for installation through the benefit of huge taxpayer subsidies, but without the benefit of government studies, inspections or reviews ordinarily accorded such industrial development. Impacts come to light after a decade of performance and a host of private studies.

Illinois Farm Bureau raises the question, “Are local governing bodies adequately prepared to regulate such a vast, technically complex and swiftly developing industry?” Our board has never written rules to regulate an industrial complex that would envelop the county, if given unbridled access.

Zoning is imposed to protect health, safety, well-being and property values. Board responsibility does not require ensuring private corporations a profit, a place to operate, or creating county revenue at the expense of the county’s primary responsibility to protect its citizens and land.

How can zoning board members suggest we don’t need rules covering violation consequences and complaints? One board member said he can read the sound threshold section of the wind ordinance, but he doesn’t understand it — and then he goes ahead and moves to approve it?

He just joined three others, who don’t understand the ordinance, either, recommending a standard that “could be tried, and changed if it doesn’t work”?

Down-county residents will suffer the consequences of a timid ordinance in a county lacking enforcement will or intent.

Good men in over their heads? Probably! So, they look to knowledgeable experts, wind energy developers, to guide them through the process, seeking at nearly every juncture a nod of approval from those same developers. “Are we doing OK?” Seems like foxes writing plans for chicken house security.

Could $500,000 in permit fees buy really objective expertise, or must we accept diminishing, diverted landfill money, regardless of what happens to our environment and the effects on people?

From the Jan. 25-31, 2012, issue

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