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A Piatt County zoning board votes against a wind farm, but the county board will have the final say.

Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Thursday night, Feb. 2nd in Monticello; L-R: ZBA members Dan Larson, Kyle Lovin, Vice-Chairman Jim Harrington, Chairman Lloyd Wax, hearing facilitator Scott Kains, Piatt County Zoning administrator Keri Nusbaum; ZBA member William Chambers.

MONTICELLO — Both supporters and opponents were watching Thursday night, as the Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals voted 5-0 against recommending a zoning permit for the Goose Creek wind turbine project proposed by Apex Clean Energy.

Wind farm pro’s and con’s

One of the supporters at the hearing, held at the Monticello Community Building, was John Jordan. He’s agreed to host a wind turbine on the property he owns and lived on, in northern Piatt County. Jordan took the zoning board’s opposition in stride.

“They’re entitled to their opinion,” said Jordan of the ZBA’s vote against the project. “It’s probably going to cost the county a lot of money, because where are we going to replace the revenue?”

Jordan referred to the tax revenue that the 50-turbine wind farm would produce. Apex Clean Energy also cites the new jobs and payments to landowners that would come with the wind farm, as well as anticipated economic development.

But opponents watching the discussion say the wind turbines would make bad neighbors. Kelly Vetter of Monticello says she canvassed neighborhoods in her town (the Piatt County seat) and found opposition to be high.

“The health issues, the shadow-flickering, the way we don’t really need the electricity here, for considering it against what this community is about,” said Vetter. “You know, the rural area, and the good farmland. I mean, we just don’t want to lose those things.”

ZBA deliberations

The zoning board of appeals revised and updated Piatt County’s regulations for wind farms prior to holding hearings on the proposal. They heard expert testimony and sometimes spirited public comment during 14 nights of hearings in November and December. They spent two evenings going through a set of conditions that would apply if the county allowed the wind farm to be built. Those included agreements on building service roads for the wind farm, and measures to avoid disrupting farm field drainage. There were agreements on the model of wind turbine to be used (the Vestas V162, producing 6.0 megawatts of electricity), mandatory studies on the noise and shadow flicker they might emit, and the establishment of a telephone hotline to field questions and complaints from the public.

ZBA members also went over a 28-page “Findings of Fact” for the Goose Creek wind project. It was here that the zoning board’s skepticism about the project became clear. For instance, members pushed back against proposed findings that the wind farm would not impede “normal development” including rural residential development at surrounding properties.

During Thursday’s hearing, ZBA Vice-Chairman Jim Harrington acknowledged the value of the tax revenue that the wind farm project would produce for Piatt County. But he said the quality of life for the project’s neighbors needed to be considered, too.

“I think the school revenue is important, I think tax revenue is important,” said Harrington, who represents Monticello Township on the ZBA. “But we also have to say, hey, would I want to live with one of these? Would I want that?” 

Next stop: the Piatt County Board

The zoning board’s vote, while important, is not definitive. The Piatt County Board will make the final decision on Apex Clean Energy’s wind farm proposal, and they don’t have to follow the ZBA’s advice.

Alan Moore, Senior Development Manager for Apex Clean Energy, says that’s where the company will turn its attention next. He says county board members have been following the zoning process, with many of them attending the hearings regularly.

“And I think they can certainly make decisions, based on what they’ve heard,” said Moore. “And I think we’ll continue to advocate for the project. And we think that it brings a lot of benefit to Piatt County, and we’re excited to see it built.”

Piatt County Board vice chairman Jerry Edwards says a date to consider the wind farm proposal has not yet been set. But he expects it will be discussed and voted on at a special meeting, at a location big enough to hold the crow he expects to come watch.

Edwards predicts Piatt County will receive more proposals wind farms in the future. Earlier this month, the Piatt County Board voted to place a six-month moratorium on wind farm special use permit applications. In addition, an advisory referendum on wind farms will be on the April 4th ballot in Piatt County.

Edwards represents county board district 1, covering the northern part of Piatt County, including the site where the proposed Goose Creek wind farm would be built, in Blue Ridge, Goose Creek and Sangamon townships. He says he’s talked to a lot of people in his district, and the majority of those oppose the wind farm.

“They do not want something the size of the Gateway Arch in their backyard,” said Edwards, referring to the height of the proposed wind turbine towers: 610 feet, from the group up to the propeller tip when pointing to the sky. The height would be taller than most wind turbines now operating in Illinois.


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Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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