In This Case, Size Does Make A Difference
600-foot tall turbines
Turbines for Wind Energy Conversion Systems increasingly are taller and fitted with longer blades. This evolution in size allows for greater wind capture and efficiency even in areas, such as ours, where average wind speed is low and wind is more intermittent.
As discussed by Joe Koppeis, Senvion-manufactured turbines will be used for his Southern Illinois Wind LLC installation along 15,000 acres of Monroe County lands. The Senvion 4X series he intends to erect are 600 feet tall, or just under the height of the Gateway Arch, as shown in our depiction.
These will be among the tallest on-shore wind turbines used in the United States. Currently the tallest onshore turbines are at the Hancock Wind project in Hancock County, Maine. The Vestas manufactured turbines at Hancock are about 574 feet tall. The very tallest on-shore turbines in the U.S. are 653.5 feet tall; these were installed at the UL/West Texas A&M University's Advanced Wind Turbine Test Facility in Randall County, Texas.
In 2010, Mr. Koppeis arranged a tour for Monroe County landowners and county commissioners of the Hoosier industrial wind facility, in Benton County Indiana. The tour was designed to show the ease with which Benton County lives with wind energy generation. Benton County, with a current population of just over 8,800 people, adopted a Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) ordinance in 2008, the year in which the Hoosier project received a special use permit. Construction began in 2009, with 1.5MW turbines, each about 393 feet tall.
In 2009 Benton County amended their Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) ordinance. Their original setback of 1.1 times the turbine height from property boundaries was changed. Their amendment now requires setbacks of a minimum of 1,000 feet for turbines rated above 1MW from “any existing residence, occupied structure, place of public gathering, or platted subdivision boundary under the zoning jurisdiction of Benton County and 1,500 feet from any platted community under the zoning jurisdiction of a municipality.”
Too Close For Comfort
The first commercial-scale Wind Energy Conversion System in Illinois was installed near the Village of Pawpaw in Lee County in 2003. There now are functioning systems in 17 counties in the state, all in central and northern Illinois. All of these counties have enacted ordinances to regulate the myriad of safeguards necessary to protect public safety and try to insure financial security for government and its citizenry.
The central issue in regulating wind tower systems is defining tower setback distances from neighboring residential dwellings, businesses and public infrastructure. Wind tower setback distances have catalyzed a host of grievances because of system noise, shadow flicker, tower part failures, and threat of property devaluations.
Governments try to do what’s right for their residents, but we all know the barricade on the highway curve generally only goes up after the school bus rolls down the hill. A study of what some other counties in Illinois have learned about wind towers in the last 15 years might be of interest to Monroe County decision makers. Monroe County’s current ordinance for a Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) mandates a setback from a property boundary line of 1.25 times tower height – that’s 750 feet for Mr. Koppeis’ proposed erection. It is among the most lenient setbacks in the state. Our county’s requirement for roadway, utility and easement setback is only 1.1 times tower height, or 660 feet in this case, also is among the most lenient in the state.
As you can see, a 600-foot tall turbine dwarfs our county's current tallest erection, Mr. Koppeis' five-story building at 11 South, Columbia.
Comparison With Illinois Counties
Dekalb County: recently amended their setback ordinance to 3000’ (feet) or 6 times tower height from a property boundary. This happened after 12 months of public hearings, testimony from expert witnesses, and litigation from property owners. The maximum allowable tower height is 500’.
Dewitt County: mandates a 2000’ setback from a property line.
Lee County: requires setback “conditional criteria” of 1400’ or 3.5 times tower height from a residence, whichever is greater. The current Lee County wind ordinance actually stipulates a 350’ setback from a residence, but the “conditional criteria” requirement demonstrates a torturous and illustrative evolution. The first commercial wind energy system in Illinois was inaugurated in Lee County in 2003. All went well and three additional wind energy projects were approved. With the fifth wind project application, strong public opposition developed, led by a coalition of farmers and an organized group of property owners and environmentalists. The opposition groups merged and sued the county to stop the development. The county commissioners declared a 12- month moratorium on the project and empaneled an ad hoc citizen committee to make recommendations. The committee consisted of opposition groups, county officials, and technical experts. The committee’s recommendations were adopted by the commissioners, only in part, and a case-by-case, “conditional criteria” review process was put in place. This remains the county’s wind energy system approval adjudication process.
Henry County: requires a 1500’ setback from a property line.
Livingston County: now sets a 3250’ setback from a property line. A recent ordinance amendment occurred after two years public testimony hearings and a non-binding voter referendum showing 83% citizen disapproval of previous ordinance requirements.
Woodford County: requires a 2400’ setback from a property line or 4 times tower height, whichever is greater.
Bureau County: requires a 1400’ or 3.2 times tower height whichever is greater from a residence.
LaSalle County: requires a 1200’ setback from any residential dwelling.
Marshall County: requires a 1000’ setback from residence or structure.
Stark County: requires 1000’ setback from a residence.
Vermilion County: requires a setback of 1.1 times tower height from a property line.
Champaign County: requires a 1200’ setback from residence or structure and sets a 500’ maximum tower height.
McLean County: requires a 2000’ setback from residential district / 1500’ setback from single residential dwelling with a 550’ maximum tower height allowable.
Stephenson County: requires a setback of 1.1 times tower height from a property line.
Logan County: requires a 1000’ setback from a building structure.
Tazwell County: requires a setback of 1.1 times tower height from a property line.
Kankakee County: requires a 1200’ setback from a residential dwellings.
Ford County: requires 2250’ setback from a property line.
Iroquois County: made a recent ordinance amendment with a 1500’ setback from property line. Residents of Douglas Township didn’t like it, so they created a 2500’ setback township ordinance.
Boone County: requires 2640’ or 5.5 times tower height setback from a property line. Boone County has no functioning commercial wind systems. Several years ago, they conducted a resident straw poll showing great opposition to wind towers. So, they wrote their ordinance and have had no applications.