Developers not entirely surprised by lack of comments at wind-farm hearing

PAXTON — The two companies jointly developing the proposed Dogtown Wind Farm east of Paxton were not entirely surprised by the lack of public comments at Tuesday night’s public hearing, which lasted just 30 minutes.

“It happens,” said Matt Kauffman, president of Stewardship Energy LLC, when asked if he had ever seen a shorter, less-eventful public hearing for a wind farm’s special-use permit application.

“It depends on the location and the project. I think our generous setbacks, in particular, and some of the design criteria we used, makes (our wind farm) more neighborly friendly.”

The Dogtown Wind Farm is being jointly developed by Stewardship Energy LLC, based in Bureau County, and Akuo Energy USA, a subsidiary of France-based Akuo Energy that is headquartered in Chicago.

The proposed 100-megawatt wind farm would feature between 40 and 49 turbines and comprise 6,136 acres of farmland east of Paxton and south of Illinois 9. The wind farm would be immediately south of the 150-megawatt, 94-turbine Pioneer Trail Wind Farm, built in fall 2011.

Immediately following Tuesday’s public hearing, the Ford County Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-0 to recommend the Ford County Board approve the special-use permit application for the Dogtown Wind Farm at the county board’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, April 8.

“I think it’s a good thing for Ford County,” Robert Link, chairman of the zoning board, said.

Tuesday’s hearing, conducted by the zoning board of appeals, contrasted greatly with the hearing that was held in 2010 for the Pioneer Trail Wind Farm, which lasted more than four hours as a result of the amount of testimony provided.

Only two public comments or questions were voiced Tuesday. About 45 people attended.

One question was from the Paxton Record about what setbacks would be used.

The only other comment was from Darrell Cambron of rural Rankin, who submitted testimony and evidence refuting the findings of an Illinois State University study regarding wind farms’ affect on property values. The study was cited in the Dogtown Wind Farm’s special-use permit application, and Akuo Energy project manager Doug Krause said the study showed “no statistical downside to property values.”

Kauffman said the larger setbacks that would be used for turbines in the Dogtown Wind Farm may be one reason for how smoothly Tuesday’s hearing went. The Dogtown Wind Farm’s special-use permit application lists a setback of 1,640 feet between a turbine and any residence — far exceeding the county’s minimum requirement of 1,000 feet.

“The turbines are spaced out farther from houses than normal, and also, there’s fewer turbines per square mile,” Krause said during the hearing.

Kauffman also said he thinks the project’s special-use permit application was well-prepared.

"I think we answered the questions we needed to,” he said. “We hired a lot of industry expert consultants to do a lot of these things we put forth, so I think we just had a well-prepared application.”

If approved by the Ford County Board next week, the wind farm would be built sometime in “the next year or so,” according to Krause.

The wind farm would feature up to 49 2.5-megawatt turbines, bringing the number of turbines along a 10-mile stretch of Illinois 9 to 143.

Stewardship Energy started working with local landowners to organize the project in 2008. Forty-one landowners in Patton and Button townships have signed leases allowing their properties to be used for the next 25 years for the wind farm, Krause said.

The power generated would be connected to the utility electric grid at a substation in Paxton.

The project is expected to involve a $200 million capital investment, the permit application says. The wind farm would produce an estimated $10 million to $20 million over 20 years in local property tax revenue and millions of dollars in payments to landowners leasing their farmground. It would also create eight long-term jobs and provide enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

The name of the Dogtown project was chosen by local landowners participating in the project. It refers to an area east of Paxton that is known as Dogtown.

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