Energy company could sue Boone County over proposed wind turbine setbacks

By Ben Stanley
Rockford Register Star

August 26. 2015 3:00PM

Energy company could sue Boone County over proposed wind turbine setbacks

BELVIDERE — In January 2011, representatives from Mainstream Renewable Power met with county representatives at Belvidere City Hall to discuss wind turbine development in Manchester and LeRoy townships.

County officials told them they must apply for a special-use permit and comply with zoning regulations before the project could proceed. Mainstream representatives estimated it would take about a year to complete project studies and submit plans to the board for approval.

Four years later, debate over wind turbine development is raging in Boone County, Mainstream is no closer to developing turbines and there’s no clear end in sight.

For months, Zoning Board of Appeals members have mulled over proposed zoning ordinance changes that would essentially ban wind energy development in Boone County.

On Tuesday night, Jim Griffin, a Chicago lawyer who represents Mainstream, testified before the board that the proposed changes are unconstitutional.

“If the amendment is approved, in order to protect its investment and the property rights of land owners who wish to host wind energy turbines, Mainstream will need to consider all options, including litigation,” Griffin said.

The changes would increase setback requirements — the determination of how far from property lines the turbines must be to comply with county code — to a half-mile. According to a map made by Mainstream developer Chris Dorman, it would be impossible for any landowner in the county to comply with that setback.

Griffin argued that the issue comes down to agricultural property rights and that the county can’t limit the rights of property owners to lease land to energy companies.

Although the proposed changes do include a section that would allow neighboring property owners to waive the setback, Griffin called the clause “legally meaningless.”

“Adjacent property owners can’t decide what neighbors do with their property,” Griffin said. “If a half-mile structure is truly a health hazard, how can Boone County allow it to be waived?”

Supporters of the changes argue that the half-mile setback is necessary to protect people living near turbines from negative health side effects. This spring, Michigan and Illinois property owners who live near turbines delivered hours of testimony to the board claiming health problems and property value decline from turbine development.

Public testimony will continue during a Sept. 22 meeting. Then planning staff will present to the board and another round of public comment from the citizens who proposed the changes will be scheduled.

It could be months before the ZBA votes on whether to recommend the changes to the County Board.

Ben Stanley: 815-987-1369;; @ben_j_stanley