MONTICELLO – The Piatt County Board has placed a six-month moratorium on special use permit applications for wind farms.
The action does not affect the application for the proposed Goose Creek Wind Farm project already under consideration. Apex Clean Energy filed that application last year and the Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals held 14 nights of testimony on the application. The ZBA will meet Jan. 24 to consider a recommendation to the county board. The full board will then vote on the proposed project later this spring.
Last week, the board also directed the board’s consulting firm, Bellwether, to finalize wording for an advisory referendum for the April ballot and also voted to send the wind farm ordinance back to the ZBA for review.
The board previously approved a moratorium in August 2020 as the ZBA and county were finalizing changes to the wind energy conversion ordinance.
The moratorium was extended six months later and then expired once the board approved the changes. Following that, Apex submitted the special use permit application.
The moratorium will allow the county to review the current ordinance and also allow the state to finalize legislation concerning zoning for wind farms.
“There are already companies out there talking and trying to line up ground,” said District One Representative Jerry Edwards, vice-chairman of the board who ran last week’s meeting in the absence of Board Chairman Todd Henricks.
“Several of us have sat through a bunch of these (ZBA wind farm) hearings and we have all learned a lot,” Edwards said. “We know now what we didn’t know then. My feeling is that our ordinance isn’t tough enough and it doesn’t give adequate protection to the residents. This moratorium would maybe give us some breathing room.”
County board members said they are watching closely, the proposed state legislation on changes to wind farm zoning matters.
Last week, House Bill 4412 was advanced by State Senator Bill Cunningham of Chicago. He said the legislation would provide counties with “guardrails” for sighting wind farms, and would better align the state with its renewable energy goals.
If signed into law by the Governor, the State of Illinois would develop a commission that would oversee and approve wind turbine siting everywhere but Chicago.
Counties would retain the ability to have an up or down vote on the project once presented, but if the project is within the state guidelines, any county rejection would trigger a lawsuit against the county that would generally favor the wind turbine company.
“It looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen,” said District One Board Member Kathleen Piatt. “So much is not included. It is very vague and pretty unsatisfactory.”
The board also wants the ZBA to review the current wind farm ordinances, now that more is known about the positives and negatives of such a project.
The Piatt County Board approved a final change in its wind energy conversion ordinance in March — a 30-hour annual limit on shadow flicker on adjacent primary structures.
It completed a nearly two-year undertaking that overhauled the original 2009 ordinance covering wind farms generating more than 500 kilowatts.
The 30 hours is more than the 15-hour maximum that had been recommended by the county zoning board of appeals. The board also deleted another ZBA recommendation: Expanding shadow flicker limits to pastureland with livestock operations.
The Piatt County board approved a 625-foot tower tip height limit for wind turbines at a January 2022 meeting.
Previously approved by the ZBA and county board are setbacks of 1.3 times the tower tip height to the nearest primary structure or 1,600 feet (whichever is greater); 1.3 times tip height to adjacent property lines or 1,000 feet; and noise limits that follow Illinois Pollution Control Board standards.
But Edwards said much more is known about wind farms, particularly after 14 nights of testimony on the Goose Creek project.
“There are wind companies out there watching what we do with (the Goose Creek project) this,” Edwards said.
To gauge public views, the board has authorized Bellwether to word an advisory referendum on the April ballot. The board set a special meeting for Jan. 17 to vote on the wording, which is expected to be something simple such as “Are you in favor of wind farms? Yes or No.”
Foran appointed to board
Bement farmer Paul Foran was appointed to fill the vacant District Three seat previously held by Randy Shumard. Foran currently serves as an alternate member of the ZBA.
Shumard resigned in December. The board passed a resolution of commendation to Shumard for his nine years as a board member.