Guest Column: Citizens fight back with factual rebuttal — part one

By Karen Kenny
The Concerned Citizens of Boone County

Editor’s note: Despite the apparent cancelation of the Whispering Prairie Wind Farm Project in Ogle, Winnebago and Stephenson counties by Gamesa Energy USA, LLC “because it is not commercially viable,” Mainstream Renewable Power continues to press for a proposed project in Boone County. This is the first of a two-part column addressing the issue before the Boone County Board.

Concerning the opinion article that appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 16, Rockford Register Star written by a Boone County Board member, we are writing a factual rebuttal of those claims.

This board member, like all citizens, had a chance to get facts into evidence, but decided to proceed in a different manner so as not to be cross-examined. This approach undermines the lawful process by trying to sway fellow board members with new evidence that could never be cross-examined.

If the citizens of Boone County had had the opportunity to cross-examine these statements, we would have exposed the fallacies of their argument and brought to light the following factual rebuttals:

Claim: “This proposal would eliminate all possibility of wind farms built in Boone County.”

Truth: The proposal before our county board amends our current language for siting wind turbines in Boone County. A wind farm can still exist in Boone County if: The wind developer can convince landowners to either sign up for a turbine or sign “Good Neighbor Agreements” and waive their property rights for cash. Vince Green, current Mainstream Renewables project manager, said during the public hearing that they could do business in our county with setbacks of 1,200 feet. 1,200 feet is already a proposed setback waiver and part of a fairness clause.

Claim: “The district would realize about $13 million in taxpayer relief through 2039 with this project. … We need the taxes from the WECS (Wind Energy Conversion Systems) project.”

Truth: If a wind project comes to Boone County, taxpayers can expect to pay more in taxes: District 200 taxpayers will NOT receive “taxpayer relief” but will see their taxes increase. First, taxes will increase because wind turbines depreciate while other types of property usually appreciate over time. Second, taxes will increase to make up for the devaluation of properties within the footprint of the wind development. As reported by Michael McCann, CRA, owner of McCann Appraisal, LLC, “Real estate sale data typically reveals a range of 25 percent to approximately 40 percent of value loss, with some instances of total loss as measured by abandonment and demolition of homes, some bought out by wind energy developers and others exhibiting nearly complete loss of marketability. This devaluation will shift the tax burden from residents living within the wind project to residents living 2 or more miles away, thus increasing the taxes for a second time, for District 200 taxpayers who live outside the project. The school may realize a tax benefit, but the taxpayer will not realize any tax relief. As property is devalued in the county, all county residents will realize an increase in taxes to pay for county government. The Illinois state law that sets the tax rate for industrial wind turbines expires in 2016. With the current financial instability in the state, maybe Illinois will do what Michigan and Missouri did by simply reclassifying how wind turbines are classified. Illinois state aid would be reduced in proportion to the amount of local taxes received. Therefore, the school would receive less from the State of Illinois and instead will be dependent on the temporary taxes received from a wind project.”

Claim: “We need jobs.”

Truth: Wind developments do not provide many local jobs: According to John Martin, former senior project manager for Mainstream Renewables, a wind turbine development is expected to employ one full-time employee for every 10 turbines. A Woodford County, Illinois, board member recently said: “Where are the jobs? They sold this project on bringing jobs to Woodford County, and only 2 percent of the workforce is coming from Woodford County.” The overwhelming share of construction jobs are short term and are filled by specialized workers who are brought in temporarily from out of state.

Claim: “…One of the most puzzling is those opposing subsidies. I guess they don’t like the fact that wind energy can get subsidies like oil, coal, nuclear energy and gas industries.”

Truth: Wind energy receives an enormous subsidy: Recorded in the U.S. Energy Information Administration report published in July 2011, 42 percent of the total electricity-related subsidies go to the wind industry even though wind energy is responsible for less than 3 percent of total electricity. This is a mature industry that has existed on an industrial level for more than 20 years. The wind industry has been receiving federal dollars in the form of Production Tax Credits and cash grants since 1992. We need to level the playing field. Currently, $52.48/Mw-h is spent to support the wind industry as opposed to $0.64/Mw-h and $0.63/Mw-h for coal and natural gas industries, respectively (magnitude of 82x). In addition to being subsidized at the federal level, states including Illinois have “green” energy mandates that require utility companies to purchase a percentage of renewable energy, which drives up electrical bills. Consumers in Illinois are now able to purchase less expensive electricity from other producers outside of Illinois who are not affected by renewable energy mandates. Utilities are more interested in purchasing the lower-cost electricity generated by natural gas and are becoming more hesitant to purchase the higher-priced electricity from wind developments. For example, in a Dec. 17, 2012, Crain’s Chicago Business article titled, “Midwest Generation Files Chapter 11,” it was reported that there is no “long-term buyer” for the wind energy being produced by the Big Sky Wind Development in Bureau and Lee counties in Illinois. This puts this project at risk. According to the Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA), taxpayers in Minnesota ended up paying $70 million more than they needed to for electricity in 2011 because of “green” energy mandates. In the Dec. 26, 2012, Wall Street Journal article titled, “The Multiple Distortions of Wind Subsidies,” Phil Gramm, retired U.S. Senator, said, “A vote to stop wind subsidies from being extended is therefore a vote for cheaper, more reliable power, higher living standards, reindustrialization and fiscal sanity.”

To be continued …

From the Jan. 16-22, 2013, issue

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