The Piatt County board approved a 625-foot tower tip height limit for wind turbines at its meeting Wednesday, but sent shadow flicker recommendations back to its zoning board of appeals for further consideration.

A yearly limit of 15 hours of shadow flicker affecting nearby homes had been endorsed by the ZBA, but after hearing concerns at its meeting the county board referred that portion of its Wind Energy Conversion Ordinance back to the ZBA.

“I think the correct number on shadow flicker should be zero on any primary residence,” said audience member Jim Reed of DeLand, who added he had a brother-in-law suffer from what he termed flicker-induced epilepsy.

“I don't think anyone should have to endure a flicker on their home or outside in their yard for any amount of hours of any part of the day,” added Reed, noting the ZBA recommendation would still allow the homeowner to waive flicker limits with wind companies if they so choose.

But Alan Moore of Apex Clean Energy, which has announced intentions to develop a 120-turbine wind farm in northern Piatt County, said research has shown shadow flicker does not cause any health concerns, including epileptic episodes.

“It's been well documented in the literature, and it's been well-documented in the (ZBA) public hearing by a physician who studies this specifically that shadow flicker poses no health risk, and has been very well documented that shadow flicker poses no risk of imposing seizures to the very small percentage of people who have those sensitivities to epilepsy,” said Moore.

“The turbines spin far too slowly to create this issue,” he added, noting that 15 hours represents less than 1 percent (.35 percent) of daylight hours annually.

County board member Gail Jones, who took office in December, said she was hesitant to vote on any wind ordinance changes without more research.

“I don't feel comfortable voting on anything that has anything to do with wind farms right now,” said Jones. “I understand the need for it, I understand that. This is not against any company or anything, but I feel my position here is to represent the people of Piatt County.”

The county has been working on amendments to its 2009 wind ordinance for the past two years in anticipation of permits being filed by Apex.

Online audience member Steve Shreffler suggested the shadow flicker limit be set at zero, with the chance that applicants could get it increased for individual projects through variances or the permitting process.

Flicker is the only remaining issue to be addressed in the ordinance rewrite. Already 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.

Apex has not yet filed for permits to place wind turbines for its Goose Creek Wind effort, which would include windmills in the Blue Ridge, DeLand-Weldon and Monticello school districts.

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