If Apex Clean Energy or any other wind power producer pursues a large wind farm in Piatt County, it will likely cost them at least $150,000 in special use permit fees alone.
The county zoning board of appeals on Oct. 24 approved a change in the decade-old wind energy conversion ordinance that increases the SUP fee from $300 per turbine. For a 120-turbine project like the Goose Creek Wind Project one proposed by Apex, that would total $36,000 under the current rules.
Zoning Administrator Keri Nusbaum said the increase is to protect the county against a potentially lengthy, expensive permitting process, one that she was told cost DeWitt County about $200,000.
“Some of our neighboring counties have had experience with spending a great deal of money on the attorneys, on the court reporters, everything else, and that would have been a big blow to Piatt County. We already have budget problems,” said Nusbaum at the ZBA session.
There is also an escalator clause that allows amounts more than $150,000 spent by the county to be billed to the applicant in increments of $50,000 with 15 days written notice. Dollars remaining after the county renders a decision and all appeals are exhausted would be returned to the applicant.
The ZBA voted 3-0 to approve the permit change. Unchanged is the $20 per foot of tower height in building and construction permits. Depending on how tall the windmills are, that could cost a potential wind energy firm another $4,000 to $8,000 per turbine.
The height is calculated from the ground to the center of the rotor hub.
Zoning board members also overhauled the ordinance governing wind energy conversion systems that have more than 500 kilowatts of electrical capacity.
Added to the ordinance is a section addressing shadow flicker, the necessity of road agreements, and an increase in mandatory liability insurance coverage by wind companies of $10 million per occurrence and $40 million in the aggregate.
Required setbacks are a minimum of 1,600 feet from wind towers to a primary structure and from substations to adjacent property lines that contain a primary structure. Tower setbacks can be reduced to 1,000 feet with permission from the adjacent property owner.
Months of work
ZBA members were pleased with the update, compiled by Nusbaum in recent months.
“To me, this is a major improvement over the 2009 version. It speaks to the current status of wind farms and wind turbines, and puts significantly more constraints and more restrictions on the production of wind farms,” said Zoning Board Chairman Loyd Wax.
“It greatly increases the setbacks, it addresses noise, it addresses interference, it addresses a number of things,” he added. “I think it looks like a good improvement.”
The ZBA recommendations now go to the Piatt County board for its consideration, probably at its Nov. 13 meeting.
Apex has not formally applied for permits for the Goose Creek Wind Project, but has proposed a 120-turbine, 300 Megawatt wind project for northern Piatt County. Company officials say they will probably not file permits for turbines until at least 2021.
Among the additions made in the new ordinance for wind operations of greater than 500 kilowatts:
–Special use permits may be authorized only in areas zoned agricultural or agricultural conservation
–Applicants must submit permit fees upon application, which will be placed in a special fund to be used to cover county costs incurred in the application process
–Applicants shall provide 14 complete copies of the WECS special use application, and also submit one in electronic format
–911 address signs shall be placed at the entrance to all WECS access roads
–Villages and municipalities must approve any tower that is within 1.5 miles of village or city limits
–All WECS towers must be at least 1.5 miles from any school property line
–All WECS towers must be at least 3,500 feet from the tower base to any restricted landing area or airport
–Road use agreements are required
–Prior to issuance of building permits, applicants must provide in a GIS shape format the turbine locations and access roads, which will be used for E-911 addressing
–Prior to issuance of building permits, an emergency plan shall be submitted to the Piatt County EMA director for review and approval
–Shadow flicker – defined as “the phenomena that occurs when rotating wind turbine blades cause moving shadows upon stationary objects – shall not affect a participating primary structure in excess of 30 calendar days of year. There shall be no shadow flicker allowed within a 500-foot radius of a non-participating primary structure or the nearest boundary of a non-participant’s parcel of 20 acres or less as exists at the time of application.
Changes made in the current proposal include:
–Lighting plans need to include a submission to the Federal Aviation Administration for aircraft detection lighting systems for wind towers;
–Setbacks change from 1,000 feet from tower to primary structures, to 3.75 times the tower tip height or 1,600 feet, whichever is greater. The setback can be reduced to no less than 1,000 by consent of the adjacent property owner;
–Allowable noise levels change from being “in compliance with applicable Illinois Pollution Control Standards” to a more specific “shall not exceed 30 dB (decibels) measured at the exterior wall of any residence which exists or for which a building permit has been issued at the date of the application;
–Mandatory applicant/owner liability policies change from $3 million per occurrence and $4 million in the aggregate to $10 million and $40 million. The applicant is also required to maintain environmental-pollution liability coverage with a limit of not less than $5 million.