By Jim Hagerty
If a bill pushed by an Illinois legislator becomes law, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, not each county, would have the power to regulate commercial wind farms.
Senate Bill 3263, sponsored by state Sen. John Sullivan, R-Quincy, would create the Wind Energy Facilities Construction and Deconstruction Act, a measure that would transfer all responsibility of siting and regulating wind turbines to the state. The bill would also invalidate existing county wind ordinances across Illinois. The state, not counties, would also issue wind farm permits under the bill.
Under Sullivan’s bill, the agriculture department would notify county officials when wind farms are proposed, and local leaders would be permitted to conduct public meetings about each project. Based on information collected at public meetings, state officials would determine compliance of each proposed farm.
“The legislation is really trying to address what some people believe is an inconsistency from county to county with regard to the regulations for wind farms,” Sullivan said. “The concern is that some of the larger counties, especially, have more resources available to their county boards to draw up their ordinances that regulate wind farms, while some smaller counties simply do not have the resources or expertise to draw up those ordinances.”
Significant criticism is coming from county leaders, namely those fighting for control of local ordinances for existing wind farm proposals. In Boone and Winnebago counties, wind debates have been ongoing for almost a decade. National and international companies have proposed leasing thousands of acres of farmland for hundreds of turbines. Assuring they do not threaten wildlife or devalue property has been on the shoulders of counties. And, that’s where leaders say it should remain.
“Philosophically, I have a problem with it,” said Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R). “County governments are extensions of the state, but this is a local issue. You have to deal with siting, permits and other local issues. You would think the state has enough to worry about.”
Even proponents of wind energy are chiding the bill, claiming wind farm ordinances impact small, rural communities the most and therefore, should be regulated by governments in those communities.
“The current system is working as-is,” Wind on the Wires Public Policy Manager Erick Borgia said. “County boards are doing very competent jobs in regulating wind farms and have been for about 10 years.”
Wind on the Wires, which merged with the Illinois Wind Energy Association in 2012, is a non profit that represents wind manufacturers and contractors in nine Midwestern states. To date, the organization has overseen 3,500 megawatts of wind-energy generation in Illinois.
Borgia added: “We believe the power to regulate wind farms should remain with local offices. The state doesn’t need to be involved. And, this is not the first time such a bill has come up. And the General Assembly keeps rejecting it.”
Regionally, there are wind farms in Lee, LaSalle, Stephenson and DeKalb counties.
From the March 19-25, 2014, issue