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 second of a two-part column addressing the issue before the Boone County Board. The first part appeared in the Jan. 16-22 issue.
Claim: “… the issue of decommissioning. In essence, objectors want Mainstream to put in escrow all the money it would cost to take them down if they are no longer used. That means millions before the project even begins.”
Truth: A decommissioning fund is money held by the county in an escrow account to cover the cost of taking turbines down at the end of their useful life. This is important because: The decommissioning fund will protect our county and its taxpayers from this future expense. For example, in Lee County, Illinois, there is no money set aside to decommission the Mendota Hills wind turbines that were put up nine years ago. Due to drastic structural differences, repowering is not a likely option. Many Lee County residents are now concerned about who will pay the “millions” of dollars to decommission them. While the wind developers claim that the life expectancy of turbines is 20-25 yrs., the Renewable Energy Foundation has published findings that reveal onshore wind farms only have an economic life span of 10-15 years. Wind developers claim that repowering old turbines is a viable option. With 14,000 already abandoned turbines in the United States, repowering appears to be just a talking point.
Claim: “None of these people ever asked Chrysler, Chem Tool, NDK, the cell tower owners or any other business to make such pre-startup donations.”
Truth: A wind development cannot be compared to Chrysler because: Chrysler is not a depreciating asset. Wind turbines depreciate at 4%/year. Taxpayers must make up the increasing amount of revenue lost each year by the depreciation. Chrysler currently employs approximately 4,500 people. According to John Martin, former Sr. Project Manager for Mainstream Renewables, a wind turbine development is expected to employ one full-time employee for every 10 turbines. Chrysler management was there for the construction phase and the development of the facility. Mainstream’s policy is to develop, name and sell the idea of a wind development to a specific county. Once approved, they turn around and sell the proposed development to an investor who purchases the development and oversees the construction phase. For example, Mainstream Renewables developed the idea of the Shady Oaks Wind Farm in Lee County and then sold the development to one of their partners, Goldwind, USA, a Chinese wind turbine manufacturer and investor. Wind projects change hands often. The developing companies form LLCs and can liquidate their assets easily. Chrysler is impacting a smaller amount of Boone County acreage. Wind developments transform rural farmland into an industrial site with corresponding health, safety and welfare concerns. Instead of 280 acres for the Chrysler facility, the wind turbine development will cover 8,000 to 12,000 acres and could affect people living 2-3 miles away. Sometimes the boundaries of a wind development project are later expanded for a Phase 2 and Phase 3 addition, taking more farmland out of cultivation.
Claim: “Wind farms enable farmers to keep their land in cultivation, rather than development into more homes on our wonderful farmland.”
Truth: Mainstream is looking to take land out of cultivation in a designated agricultural area, the North County Ag area. This area is already protected from development by the Boone County Comprehensive Plan. There are several ways in which our wonderful farmland will be affected: The construction of 80 to 140 wind turbines in Boone County could cause 160 to 400 acres of farmland to be permanently taken out of production. According to our own Farmland Protection Group, “Every minute of every day, another acre of farmland is lost.” Some landowners, who have their land registered in the Agriculture Preservation Program, have signed contracts with Mainstream. These landowners will be forced by deed to take this portion of land out of the Agriculture Preservation Program. Turbines and access roads will make production less efficient, creating more headlands. Construction will destroy miles of drainage tiles, interfere with waterways and affect both surface water movement and below-ground water movement. Wind turbines make it more difficult to farm; while construction is going on, roads will be closed and will be in disrepair. A Lee County township trustee and participating land owner in the Shady Oaks Wind Farm just testified in Lee County in December, 2012, concerning the amount of damage done to the roads and farmland; non-participating farm fields were used as driveways, tile was crushed, and “no one would listen to our complaints.” Eight months later, the township is still waiting for $600,000 to fix their roads. Turbines will make pest control more difficult. According to testimony submitted during Boone County ZBA public hearing, “Aerial applicators reserve the right to refuse to fly near wind turbines. The few that do, on a limited basis, charge 50 percent more. If a non-participating farmer cannot get his field sprayed or has to pay more, who reimburses him for this new liability? Who pays for crop losses for a non-sprayed field that generates a lower yield?”
Claim: “The vast majority of Boone County residents support wind farms in our county.”
Truth: The numbers tell the truth: All Boone County Board members should attend ZBA meetings of this magnitude. During the first WECS ZBA meeting, the audience was polled and asked, “How many people would like to have a turbine as a neighbor?” After the show of hands was counted, only 6 percent wanted a turbine as a neighbor. The Concerned Citizens have submitted hundreds of legal objection letters during the ZBA public hearing and continue to collect more of them to this day. Since the 1960s and the establishment of zoning laws, the people of this country are legally protected from a nuisance that could be imposed upon them by their neighbor. Our zoning process has ALWAYS allowed neighbors to weigh in on zoning requests. The code is intended to protect the people who are currently living in the county.
From the Jan. 23-29, 2013, issue