The Piatt County Board voted 4-2 on Friday to approve a special use permit for a wind farm in the county. But several members made it clear they were approving the Prosperity Wind project reluctantly, as a new Illinois law gave them no real choice in the matter.
That law sets statewide guidelines for wind and solar farms. County Board member Michael Beem said as long as the project meets those guidelines, Piatt County cannot refuse it. He said doing so could lead to a court battle the county would likely lose.
“And so, at the end of the day, we could end up with a half million dollars or more of legal fees and fines, and still end up with a wind farm,” Beem told his fellow county board members.
New Wind Farm To Be Operational In A Year
Earlier this year, the Piatt County Board rejected a similar wind farm project from the same company, the Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy. That project did not fall under the new law. In addition, Piatt County voters rejected wind farms in general by a vote of 1,498 to 623 in a non-binding referendum in April.
But Apex senior development manager Alan Moore predicts that once the wind farm is built, opposition to it will fade.
“We understand that these are big changes for a community,” Moore told IPM News. “But we also know this isn’t the first wind project in the state of Illinois. And if you move from county to county, the vast majority, if not almost everybody, once the project’s up and operational, the concerns, in many cases, go away.”
Moore said construction of the wind farm is expected to last throughout most of 2024, with potential operations beginning as early as November or December of next year.
According to the project’s website, the Prosperity Wind Project plans to feature up to 50 wind turbines. These turbines will be spaced roughly a quarter-mile to a half-mile apart on leased land spanning about 20,000 acres in northern Piatt County. The project aims to generate over 200 construction jobs and could offer up to 12 ongoing roles in operations and maintenance. Once operational, the wind farm will have the capacity to produce 300 megawatts of electricity — sufficient to power around 99,000 U.S. homes annually, according to Apex Clean Energy.
The Piatt County Board resolution approving the wind farm’s special use permit also noted an additional agreement between the county and Apex Clean Energy. Under the “good neighbor” agreement, Apex will offer payments to neighbors of the wind farm site, and to landowners who had previously refused to sign leases with the company to host wind turbines.
“It doesn’t give any rights to the (wind farm) project to do anything on their property,” said Moore. “We feel like it’s a good opportunity to allow folks who maybe were opposed to the project to participate in the project.”
Moore said exact details of the good neighbor agreement still need to be worked out.
Public Comments For And Against
Before taking action, the county board heard about an hour of public comment about the wind farm proposal. Those who spoke were among the 70 or so people attending the meeting, which was held at the Monticello High School auditorium to accommodate the larger-then-normal crowd.
Opponents, many of whom said they lived near the proposed site for the project, said the wind turbines would be unsightly and noisy. Some questioned wind energy’s long-term economic viability, as well as scientific theories about climate change.
Katherine Burton told county board members that she lives “in the middle” of the Prosperity Wind Project site, and that she and several of her neighbors oppose having a wind farm built. She was critical of Apex Clean Energy’s persistence in wanting to build a wind farm in Piatt County, despite continuing opposition.
“I am baffled by Apex,” said Burton. “They have heard ‘no’ numerous times. And I do not understand how they can have the conscience to come back here again, time and time and time, trying to push this on us when we do not want it.”
But supporters said the wind farm would increase the use of renewable energy to generate electricity, and bring economic benefits to Piatt County, in the form of tax revenue, construction jobs, and charitable donations to local organizations from Apex Clean Energy.
Joe Riley spoke in favor of the wind farm as a member of the Laborers International Union of North America. He said members of Urbana-based Local 703 of his union would likely be the workers who build the Prosperity wind farm, because of their prior experience with wind farm projects.
“I’m talking about men and women that live in Piatt County and the neighboring counties have built the wind farms all over this state,” said Riley. “That’s why I’m here tonight, speaking in favor of the project. I think it’s an opportunity for the board to be a good neighbor to the working tradesmen and women of Piatt County.”
Riley referred to dozens of other wind farms in Illinois. A Wikipedia article on wind farms in Illinois lists 49 wind farms in the state, some of them in counties that border Piatt County. According to the American Clean Power Association — a renewable energy industry group — Illinois ranks fifth in the U.S. for installed wind energy capacity, with 11.1% of the state’s electricity coming from wind energy.