County officials protest Ill. Senate bill on wind farms

Apr 2 – McClatchy-Tribune Regional News – Jessica Bourque – Morris Daily Herald, Ill.
A proposed Illinois Senate bill aims to make all wind farms state-regulated, and Grundy County officials are not happy about the proposition.
Illinois Senate Bill 3263, sponsored by John Sullivan, D-Quincy, would create the Wind Energy Facilities Construction and Deconstruction Act. The law would transfer all regulatory responsibilities regarding wind farms – which are currently regulated on a county by county basis – to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Several Illinois counties, including Grundy County, are opposed to the proposed legislation, which passed Monday during a Grundy County Rules Committee meeting an official resolution opposing Senate Bill 3263.

The resolution is set to go before the County Board next week, before it is passed along to state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, who will take the county’s concerns to Springfield.

“We are one of several counties against this legislation,” county administrator Heidi Miller said Tuesday.

Grundy is home to one wind farm that encompasses 132 wind turbines near the Highland, Verona and Kinsman areas.

“Last time, when we had the Horizon wind farm, we had input through public hearings and there was a lot of cooperation with the municipalities,” Miller said. “This bill would take that collaborative process away.”

According to the proposed measure, county governments would be relegated as recommending bodies, which means they could suggest windmill regulations but would have no authority to actually write ordinances.

Grundy County Chairman Ron Severson said the county is especially concerned about losing the power to decommission wind towers.

“What happens if, all of the sudden, [the wind farm] goes bankrupt and we need to decommission,” Severson said Tuesday. “We wouldn’t have that authority to do that and you hate to lose local control with anything.”

According to the bill’s sponsor, state regulation could bring more uniformity to wind-farm regulation throughout the state. Currently, windmill regulations differ between each county.

“We’re not against standardization, necessarily,” Grundy County Rules Committee chairman Eric Rasmusson said Tuesday. “We’d just like to keep that control at the county level.”

Miller said there is already some consistency among county ordinances, but each is tailored to the specific county’s needs and limitations.

For example, Grundy County had to coordinate with road commissioners on pavement projects before building its wind farm.

“Instead of just reviewing the county’s and various municipalities’ existing wind ordinances, they’re going the other tact and asking the Department of Agriculture to evaluate everything,” Miller said.

The bill also would make uniform regulations to mitigate each wind farm’s agricultural impact and would allocate resources for smaller counties that may not have the resources needed to draft proper wind farm ordinances.

The bill had its first reading in the Senate last month, and as of March 27, was sent to an energy subcommittee on special issues where it awaits further review.

A proposed Illinois Senate bill aims to make all wind farms state-regulated, and Grundy County officials are not happy about the proposition.