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Once again, Piatt County considers an application for a wind farm

Apex operates this energy facility, Hoopeston Wind, in Vermilion County. Apex has applied to build a wind farm in Piatt County.

Zoning hearings are underway in Piatt County on a new wind farm proposal, six months after their board rejected a similar proposal from the same company.

This time, Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy is seeking approval for a 50-tower wind farm, to be built on leased patches of farmland in two townships in the northern part of the county. The Prosperity Wind project is slightly smaller than the 60-tower Goose Creek farm that Apex proposed last year.

The Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals held its first hearing on the Prosperity Wind project on Aug. 28. Eight more hearings have been scheduled through Sept. 11. After the zoning board makes its recommendation on the project, the Piatt County Board will make a final decision.

The county board rejected the Goose Creek wind farm proposal last March. But even then, both county and Apex officials knew that a new proposal would be treated differently. New proposals fall under a new law that sets statewide standards for wind farms. If a proposal meets those standards, county boards have to accept them.

The Goose Creek proposal was rejected by the Piatt County Board last spring, following the county zoning board’s recommendation. But county officials won’t have the same freedom to turn down the Prosperity Wind project.

Impact of a new state law

This time, the approval process is subject to a new state law, which sets statewide standards for wind farms. If a project meets those standards, county boards cannot deny approval.

“That’s the language both in the state law and in the county ordinance,” says Apex senior development manager Alan Moore. “So the county ordinance says if the application meets all the criteria of the wind ordinance, then the county shall approve the application.”

Moore and Apex project manager Adam Carlson were among those who testified at the first zoning hearing on Aug. 28. After making statements under oath, Moore and Carlson were cross-examined by zoning board members, and any other Piatt County officials and residents who wished to speak.

Toppled tower: could it happen in Piatt County?

One resident asked about the risk of one of the Prosperity wind towers collapsing, as one tower did last February at another company’s wind farm, the RWE-operated Pioneer Trail wind farm in nearby Ford County.

Carlson, who grew up in Ford County, says the tower collapse at Pioneer Trial was likely due to a faulty foundation. He was sure that the foundation plans included in the Prosperity Wind project application were free of such problems.

“I’m aware of the Pioneer Project,” Carlson said. “I’m aware of what happened there. Very close to home, very close to the land that we have in my family. I don’t know exactly what happened, though. But we can only assume it [the Pioneer Trail tower collapse] is something foundation failure related. That won’t happen here.”

Opponents fear wind farms will bring noise/light pollution

Other opponents of the Prosperity Wind project see wind farms as eyesores, bringing noise and light to the countryside.

Bruce Paulsrud, who lives near the proposed wind farm site, asked Apex officials about tower lights that would switch on automatically when airplanes approach. He said he understands the need for tower lights but worried about how often they would be flashing near his property.

“So, if there’s a sensor (to turn lights on when planes approach) but there’s always flights going on, then they’re going to be on almost all the time anyway,” said Paulsrud in an interview. “I moved out into the country to get away from light pollution.”

The hearings are expected to cover many facets of the potential impact of the wind turbine towers, from the noise they produce to the potential impact of their foundations on farmland drainage.

Moore, Apex’s senior development manager, said his company’s presence in Piatt County brings an important economic benefit as well.

“It brings a large amount of property tax revenue to a community,” said Moore in an interview. “It brings benefits like improvements to roads. It brings increased revenue to school districts. It brings a long-term partner that will employ people not only through the construction, but long-term, both locally and throughout the state.”

In all, the Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals scheduled nine hearings on Apex Clean Energy’s Prosperity wind project: on Aug. 28, 29, 30 and 31 and Sept. 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11. After the zoning board makes its recommendation, the Piatt County Board will make a final decision on the wind farm project.  

If approved, the Prosperity Wind project would be Piatt County’s first wind farm. Several nearby counties already host wind farms, including Vermilion County, home of the Hoopeston Wind, which Apex operates for its owner, the IKEA Group.

Electricity generated by wind turbines in Illinois provides 12% of the state’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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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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