DeKALB – The DeKalb County wind energy ordinance is in its final stages of creation as it goes to the County Board with recommendations provided by a county hearing officer.
The county’s Planning and Zoning Committee unanimously voted Oct. 24 to advance the ordinance to the County Board with the recommendation of approval county hearing officer Dale Clark submitted last week. Board members said the recommendations were vague at best but agreed that the best decision would be to move the ordinance forward after more than a year of discussion.
After all committee members voted in favor of moving the ordinance and Clark’s recommendations forward in a roll call vote, committee member Kevin Bunge said he was “pleasantly surprised” to see that every committee member voted on the same action Wednesday, Oct. 24.
Bunge said there were three directions the committee could go: approve the recommendations and bring them before the County Board, deny the recommendations and move the original ordinance draft along to the County Board, or bring it back to a public hearing for additional discussion.
“I just didn’t see that coming because we have such disparity of views on this ordinance on this committee,” Bunge said.
After hearing hours of related comment during two public hearings Sept. 24, Clark said he is recommending the turbine setback to stay at least six times the turbines’ height away from neighboring properties. He said a wind energy development company could work around those restrictions by proposing a wind farm with shorter turbines, or seeking waivers from neighboring properties, according to the recommendation.
Clark acknowledged in the approval that Concerned Citizens for DeKalb County, the group opposing the plans of wind developer EDF Renewable Energy, wanted a minimum setback of 6,652 feet, or 13 times the tip height. He said in his recommendation that that setback would be unreasonable for developers to build turbines.
Jon Baker, a representative for EDF Renewables, said the recommendation of adding Illinois Pollution Control Board standards to the wind ordinance for shadow flicker and noise regulations was good so that more standards from respected government entities are included. But, he said, most wind turbines aren’t shorter than 450 feet anymore, and allowing larger turbines that generate more energy still could mean fewer turbines overall with a more standard distance of three times the base-to-blade-tip height.
“The 3,000-foot setback to nonparticipating property lines still makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Baker said.
Clark also said in his recommendation that a zero-effect shadow flicker rule would be unreasonable to mandate for wind energy developers, since the county has not required the same for other agriculture businesses. He said sound limitations are extreme and don’t take into account ordinary night sounds such as trains, traffic or ordinary wind noise.
Phil Luetkehans, attorney for Concerned Citizens for DeKalb County, said he still has concerns with the hearing officer’s recommendations regarding shadow flicker and noise levels. He said he doesn’t think handling shadow flicker concerns on a case-by-case basis would provide any clarity for all involved parties and that Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations are outdated and not meant, nor have been adequate, for wind turbines.
“The IPCB standards are about 13 dBA above what most experts have said is safe for wind turbine noise of residents nearby,” Luetkehans said.
Luetkehans also said he thinks property value guarantees would be ineffective to include in the ordinance. He said clear standards on more contentious discussion points would be more beneficial for the county.
Although public comment opportunities for the ordinance itself have passed, committee chairman Steve Faivre said he wanted to remind the public that they still can reach out to district County Board members if they want to provide additional comments on the ordinance.
“Because when this goes to the County Board, the board itself can make changes that we were not necessarily able to do at the committee level that would become part of the ordinance itself,” Faivre said.
The County Board will consider the wind ordinance and Clark’s recommendations during its meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving.