Sullivan sponsors bill to allow state to overrule counties regarding wind farms

March 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

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Some Illinois counties are objecting to a state senator’s proposal to give the Illinois Department of Agriculture, rather than each county, the sole authority to regulate the siting, construction and removal of commercial wind turbines.

Senate Bill 3263, sponsored by John Sullivan, D-Rushville, would create the Wind Energy Facilities Construction and Deconstruction Act, which would invalidate counties’ existing wind ordinances and transfer such regulatory responsibilities to the state.

The Adams County Board voted Tuesday night to send a letter to Sullivan stating its opposition to the bill.

Sullivan said he is aware that his proposed law, which is an initiative of the Illinois Farm Bureau, is not looked upon favorably by some counties, specifically those that want to retain local control over wind farms. Wind-energy advocates are also not supportive of the measure.

However, Sullivan thinks the change would help bring consistency to Illinois’ wind-farm rules, which vary greatly by county. It would also provide legal resources and expertise to smaller counties that otherwise may be short-handed when drafting their own wind ordinances.

“The legislation is really trying to address what some people believe is an inconsistency from county to county with regard to the regulations for wind farms,” Sullivan said. “The concern is that some of the larger counties, especially, have more resources available to their county boards to draw up their ordinances that regulate wind farms, while some smaller counties simply do not have the resources or expertise to draw up those ordinances.”

Sullivan said his legislation, which was assigned Feb. 25 to the Senate’s energy committee, would allow the Department of Agriculture to create a “statewide standard” for a wind farm’s siting, construction and removal, while also requiring each wind-farm operator to enter into an “agricultural impact mitigation agreement” with the agriculture department, stating how the land impacted by a wind farm’s construction and removal will be restored to its productive capability.

The law would apply only to wind farms not yet built or permitted by a county board.

The “most controversial” part of the legislation, Sullivan said, is that siting authority would be transferred to the state’s control. That would include setting a statewide standard for the setback, or distance, required between wind turbines and homes.

Sullivan said counties would not be able to require more or less restrictive setbacks than those required by the state, but developers could voluntarily use larger setbacks than required. He also stressed that although his legislation does not specify what the statewide turbine setback would be, counties would be able to give their input whenever the Department of Agriculture sets its standards.

“There would be an opportunity for input from anybody in the state interested in the discussion,” Sullivan said. “The department would do its own research, as well, looking at what we’ve done here in Illinois and looking at other states.”

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