Solar permit extended for USS Solar

The Piatt County board approved a 625-foot tower tip height limit for wind turbines at its meeting Jan. 13, 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 remainder of 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 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 requests being filed by Apex.

Online audience member Steve Shreffler suggested that shadow flicker limits 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.

Both the motions to approve the tip height and send shadow flicker back to the ZBA were approved unanimously.

Solar permit extended

The county board agreed to extend a solar farm permit for Farmer City USS Solar, which still has plans to pursue a 3.2 megawatt solar project on a 24-acre site just north and east of Farmer City. When the county approved the permit in January of 2019, it required that construction begin within two years.

Company spokesman Nathan Wozniak told the board that the process with the state has been slowed due to COVID-19, and a one-year extension would keep their place in line for possible subsidies.

“In order to preserve their position on the wait list and to successfully develop and project in the near future should more funding become available through the Illinois SHINES program, we respectfully request the board approve the request to extend the special use expiration by one year,” USS Solar said in their written request.

Board members were amenable to the request, noting that, of the three solar permits approved two years ago, the USS Solar one seemed to be the best fit for the county.

“This might be the best site in terms of not impacting surrounding neighbors,” said board chairman Ray Spencer.

“That one is probably the best suited,” added board member Jerry Edwards, saying it does not take as much fertile farmland out of projection when compared to some other proposals.

The Farmer City USS Solar project is actually two arrays, one on each side of a drainage ditch.

Without the extension, the permit would have expired on Jan. 9.

Permit for home turned down

The county decided against approving a special-use permit for Debra Miner to construct a second home on a 5.054-acre parcel of Interchange Business-zoned land located at 760 East, 1700 North Road, Monticello.

The requested had been recommended for approval by the ZBA after being assured construction of a second home on the property would not affect a large tile that helps drain adjacent farm ground.

But the board felt two homes was not the best fit for industrially-zoned land.

“It’s in an interstate area, non-conforming,” said Edwards. “My opinion is that being that there are two strikes against this, I’m thinking this probably isn’t a good fit for the area.”

Miner said her initial plans were to add on to an existing home. After finding cisterns that would need to be filled in, she pursued the possibility adding a new house on the property.

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