Ford County looks to strengthen wind-farm regulations

PAXTON — Before any more wind farms are granted special-use permits to operate in Ford County, officials want to make sure the county and its residents are protected from any issues that may arise from their construction.

The county board’s zoning committee met last week to hash out proposed changes to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms, with further discussions to take place during another committee meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 16.

Once the changes are finalized by the full county board — after first being approved by the committee as well as the county’s zoning board of appeals and planning commission — the board is expected to finally lift a moratorium on the granting of special-use permits for wind farms that has remained in effect for the past several months.

The moratorium was prompted by complaints from residents in the Kempton area, who claimed their television reception was disrupted by a wind farm built in that area.

One change eyed for the county’s wind-farm ordinance addresses that issue specifically.

Instead of simply requiring that a wind-farm operator take “reasonable steps” to address complaints of television interference — as well as interference with Internet signals and other electric signals — the board is looking at requiring the operator to respond to each complaint received within 30 days and remedy each issue within 60 days, or face daily fines of up to $1,000 per unresolved complaint.

“You’ll get their attention that way,” Board Chairman Randy Berger said.

In addition, the board is looking at mandating that wind-farm operators respond promptly to the county’s enquiries. Board member Randy Ferguson suggested requiring a 24-hour time limit for a wind-farm operator to respond to a call from county officials. Ferguson said it has been difficult to reach some wind-farm operators in the past.

In a related matter, the board has also been discussing the possibility of requiring a wind-farm operator to check the strength of satellite and other electronic signals within two miles of each turbine prior to construction of a wind farm, giving a “baseline” to use to determine if such signals have been weakened or interrupted by a turbine.

Audience member Ted Hartke asked that the same practice be completed in regards to the noise emitted from each turbine.

“My only purpose to come here is to make sure people can sleep inside their homes,” Hartke told the committee.

The county’s zoning enforcement officer, Matt Rock, said that currently, the county only requires that wind farms’ noise levels comply with Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations.

Committee Chairman Dave Hastings suggested assigning decimal limits within 1,500 feet of each turbine — with one limit applying to daytime noise levels and the other to nighttime noise levels.

Rock asked committee members to provide what they feel would be appropriate limits for noise levels. The committee is expected to discuss committee members’ suggestions at the April 16 meeting.

Rock also asked the committee to come up with recommended setbacks for wind turbines so that the committee can come to a consensus on that issue on April 16, as well.

Among other proposed changes are those related to turbine height limits and minimum blade clearance.

Changes to the decommissioning requirements for wind farms are also being proposed. In the past, Rock said most wind-farm operators have issued bonds as financial assurance to the county in the case a wind farm shuts down and needs to be removed. However, the committee has proposed requiring that at least half of the cost of decommissioning come in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit — which committee members said would be more secure and accessible to the county than a bond would be.

“A letter of credit guarantees the money will be there,” Hastings said.

Also, no longer will the county allow a wind-farm operator to deduct turbines’ salvage value from the financial assurance it provides.

Before providing the financial assurance, wind-farm operators would also need to provide to the county at least two written estimates from reputable contractors regarding how much it would cost to decommission their wind farm. One of those estimates must be from a contractor located within 150 miles of the county.

Even after a wind farm is built, the operator would need to provide updated cost estimates for decommissioning of the wind farm every three years. Currently, updated estimates are required every five years.

Under the committee’s proposal, updated estimates could only be higher — not lower — than the estimate provided to the county prior to construction.

Also, in the event an entire wind farm or a portion of a wind farm shuts down, the county would give the wind-farm operator up to one year to decommission the affected portion of the project. Currently, there is no time limit.

“You can’t just let it string along for 10, 20 years,” Rock said.

Berger said he would like the committee to wrap up its discussions about the wind-farm ordinance this month, allowing the committee’s recommended changes to advance to the zoning board and planning commission before being approved by the full county board later this spring.

“I want it done before the first of May,” Berger said. “I’m talking about the whole thing.”

The April 16 meeting will be held in the board room in the basement of the sheriff’s office in Paxton.

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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