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County Board hears concerns on proposed wind farm

By Kayleigh Rahn
Discussion of the proposed 10,000-acre Broadlands Wind Farm brought dozens of Douglas County residents to the Wednesday, June 20 county board meeting.

EDP Renewables has worked for nearly a decade to get the wind farm off the ground. However, in recent months, they have been met with resistance from residents of the Newman area who say they could be directly or indirectly affected by the 20-megawatt, 60-turbine site.

Paul Freebairn, a member of the Douglas County community since 1979, addressed the board with similar information he presented to the county’s Plat and Planning subcommittee on Friday, June 1. During that meeting, Freebairn requested that the county establish an 18-month moratorium on the acceptance of industrial wind turbine or solar exchange applications to allow the proper research to be done to adjust the county ordinance regarding turbine setback. He’s asked the Douglas County Board to consider a 3,000-foot setback from a structure, rather than the current 1,000-foot set back, and a setback from the property line of 3 times the turbine tip height, rather than the current 1 times the turbine tip height.

“I’m here representing a majority of residents who not by their choice have been forced to reside within the footprint of the proposed industrial wind turbine project in the northeast corner of Douglas County,” Freebairn told the county board during last weeks’ meeting at the Annex Building.

He added that he raised his family in the county and one of his children has opted to place roots in the community as well.

“In all of these years of working and raising a family I’ve never been afraid of anyone or anything in this county, but I can no longer make that statement,” he said. “I am very much afraid of the very detrimental affects of industrial low-frequency noise, and I am not alone in that fear. The data is amassing on an almost daily basis as to the negative health affects of industrial wind turbines.”

Freebairn cited articles that described health boards and health professionals within the United States and Canada declaring industrial wind turbines public health hazards.

Within his presentation, Freebairn says his intention is not to interfere with the 90 leases currently in place with property owners.

“Our concern is with the non-participating land owners,” he said noting the proposal he’s submitted that includes 80 residents’ signatures. “These proposals…are not meant to restrict participating landowners; it is only meant to protect the non-participating landowners.”

He added that real estate value, shadow flicker, and ice throw are concerns of the residents who have not signed leases.

Freebairn said his proposed moratorium has precedence in Ford and DeKalb counties.

“If we thought that all of the testimonies, articles, and research papers were just a bunch of people lying we would not be here today. We personally would have signed the leases and taken the money, yet here we are today spending our precious time to bring you the truth.”

EDP Renewables project manager Amy Kurt introduced the company following Freebairn’s presentation. She said the company currently has five wind farms in Illinois, and the Douglas County project includes work with nearly 100 land owners who have signed leases for more than 10,000 acres of land, while only about 80 acres would be taken out of agriculture use to for the footprint of the turbines and other infrastructure.

“I wanted to inform everyone of the broader benefits that the farm could bring to Douglas County,” she said. She noted that since 2006 the company has paid more than $50 million in taxes to Illinois communities hosting their wind farms. They are anticipating to pay more than $2 million in taxes related to Douglas County farm within the first year of operation, the majority of which will be paid to school districts. Kurt said landowners and neighboring landowners are estimated to receive annual payments that could amount to $1 million per year.

Construction could “create” about 250 jobs and sustaining the farm will add seven to 10 permanent jobs to the downtown Newman office, she added.

“The concerns about health that we have seen are not based on real science and reliable science,” she said. “A lot of them have been based on fear mongering and junk science and have been disproven over and over again.”

She said she would provide the board with studies backing her statements.

“There are more than 2,500 wind turbines spinning in Illinois today; there are tens of thousands of them spinning all over the country and many, many more all over the world. If these health impacts were a reality we would be seeing major, major affects in communities all over Illinois, and we are simply not seeing that. These sounds that Mr. Freebairn has mentioned are no different than sounds produced by common household items such as ceiling fans, air conditioners, cars, and motors.”

She invited community members to contact their office to tour one of the existing EDP wind farms.

“I am concerned about the proposal that Mr. Freebairn has presented regarding set back requirements,” she said. “We have been planning this wind farm using the blueprints the county has put out in their wind ordinance several years ago. Our company has spent over $9 million on landowner negotiations, on interconnection agreements, on engineering and design based on the regulations the county has put forth. If the county were to adopt what he is proposing regarding set backs from property lines we would not have a project today and participants who have agreed to work with us would not be able to participate because of those set backs. We understand we have more work to do regarding public education so we will be looking to host other events for the public.”

Freebairn said his concern is that the board’s process to establish the proposed moratorium will take longer than EDP Renewables will take to submit their application as outlined in the county’s current ordinance. If the moratorium is not set before the application is submitted, the county will likely be legally bound to stay within the parameters of the current 1,000-foot set backs.

The subcommittee chairman Tom Hettinger said he would work with the committee members to set a meeting to consider the proposed moratorium. That meeting was not set as of press time on Tuesday, June 26. The subcommittee has the authority to only make a recommendation or not to the formal board for consideration.

Community member Chuck Ayers said his family has signed an agreement with EDP Renewables and hopes to have a turbine on their property.

“To me the money and taxes coming into the county will benefit the community over and over again,” he said.

Ayers said he recently visited DeKalb County and spoke to a landowner and resident within the footprint of the wind farm who said they have grown used to the flicker shadow and the noise.

“He said he doesn’t even notice the turbines anymore, and the only regret he had was that he didn’t sign up to get a turbine of his own,” Ayers said. “I also talked with a couple farmers within the EDP wind project. He ended up with 12 turbines. He said the new roadways allowed them to park their trucks and haul grain in a really wet year. Another said he was a tenant farmer and his land owners said they were very happy and the schools have doubled their money, so it’s a win win. That’s my belief on it. Everyone do your research. You can find what ever you want on either side of it.”

Douglas County Native Austin Apgar, a local land owner and project investor, said he had three concerns–absentee landlords, advancement in technology, and decommission of the site.

He said he has a concern that those who have signed leases are not residents of the area but those who own land as absentee landlords.

“They aren’t concerned with how the community is viewing this,” he said.

He also said that while the turbines may be viable technology at this point, he is concerned how quickly wind turbines could be replaced.

And finally, he said he is concerned that the cost to decommission the site in the future will be greater than what is suggested today.

“I think a solid study, and I’m happy to help fund this, to look at this and to study the true cost in 40-50 years, if this company is still viable, what kind of money they have put up that we can count on to take these down and take our county roads back to where they need to be,” Apgar said. “I want to make sure that we’re not caught with a bill when I’m in my 60s or 70s, and the residents are saying this company is defunct, and the true cost is $1 million more to tear these down because of inflation.”

Apgar said he is in support of the moratorium to study true costs of decommission in an unbiased study.

The full story can be found in the Wednesday, June 27 edition of The Tuscola Journal.

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