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Piatt County wind farm opponents face off against a new state law encouraging their construction.

The Piatt County Board, meeting in Monticello on April 7. Vice-Chairman Jerry Edwards is 4th from the left. Chairman Todd Henricks is third from the right.

PIATT COUNTY – In March, the Piatt County Board voted to reject a wind farm proposal in the northern part of the county from Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy, which has developed several wind and solar energy projects in central Illinois. Following that, voters in the central Illinois county of about 16,000 rejected wind farms in general, in an advisory referendum that the county board had placed on the April 4 ballot. 70.63% of ballots cast said “no” to allowing wind farms (1,498 against wind farms to 623 in favor).

But a new state law, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in January before the election took place, sets new statewide standards for siting wind and solar farms in downstate counties. The new standards set out in the 102nd General Assembly’s House Bill 4122 supersede existing county regulations, and appear to prevent counties from rejecting wind farm projects entirely, from this point on.

Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows spoke to Piatt County Board Vice-Chairman Jerry Edwards (R-Dis 1) about what’s going on.

JM: It’s a local election, so turnout is low (18.09%). But do you think that 70% of that body of voters saying “no” to wind farms pretty well represents the county?

Jerry Edwards: I would hope so. I know up in the northern end of the county, where it was going to be affected, it was more like 80%.

JM: And that’s the area you represent.

Jerry Edwards: yes, District One, which incorporates all of what that commercial wind operation was wanting to set up.

JM: But since that referendum was placed on the ballot, the governor signed legislation which essentially changes what counties can do in terms of limiting wind farms.

Jerry Edwards: Oh, yeah, it definitely changes. I’m sure that the wind industry was behind all this, because the timing is just too coincidental. And to exempt Chicago, where they call it the Windy City, you’ve got all of Lake Michigan that they could have put towers up there.

JM: So are the counties’ hands tied in terms of just saying no absolutely, to wind farms?

Jerry Edwards: You know, some of us are sitting there and thinking, we open ourselves up to a lawsuit without a doubt. And there’s people out there says, well sue us. we’ll tie this up in court for years.

JM: Is Piatt County ready to consider that sort of action?

Jerry Edwards: I’ve certainly would. I speak for myself only.

JM: What do you think would be the legal argument in a case like that, against the new law setting state standards for siting wind farms?

Jerry Edwards: I don’t have a problem setting state standards. Who drew up the blueprint for these standards? My guess is that the wind industry set the standards. I don’t think there was anybody in the state that had anything to do with this.

JM:  Now we’re talking after a county board meeting on April 12th. And just at this meeting, Chairman (Todd) Henricks (R-Dis 3) brought up the idea of encouraging more areas in the county to incorporate in order to create a buffer to keep wind farms away. Do you see that as something that can be viable for wind farm opponents?

Jerry Edwards: I see it’s problematic, because here, your rule again, if you look at Galesville, and Lodge, small areas, I don’t know if there’s 200 people —

JM: That’s how many are needed in order to incorporate

Jerry Edwards: That’s what I understand. So I see a problem there. It would be nice, but you have to set up basically village government, and you’re going to have to have a mayor and a board and all this. And to get a such a small area of people, it’s hard to find people to serve on county boards and departments.

JM:  So what’s next for Piatt County? Do you expect another wind farm proposal from one company or another to be coming in the near future?

Jerry Edwards: Oh, yes. I think that Apex will be filing as soon as the first of June. And I know that there have been landowners approached on south, even west of Monticello, looking for land. You know, the biggest problem we have here is absentee landowners. If you took out the absentee landowners out of this proposal, they would not have enough land to do it.

JM: Now there are some local landowners —

Jerry Edwards: Well, yeah.

JM: I mean, I remember speaking to one at a zoning meeting, who said he lives on the site and he’s okay with the wind farm.

Jerry Edwards: And that’s true. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and their own wishes. It’s their land. They have a right to do on their land what they wish, but they do not have a right by doing things on their land that interferes with their neighbors.

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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