Wind project fails first phase of second application

Alta Farms wind project opponent Olivia Klemm addresses the Regional Planning Commission Tuesday night. — Gordon Woods / Journal

CLINTON — For the second time in 2019, Tradewind Energy officials failed to convince a majority of the Regional Planning Commission (RPC) to recommend the company’s special use permit for the Alta Farms II wind energy project.

On Tuesday, RPC members voted 3-2 to forward Tradewind’s application to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) as “not recommended.”  The ZBA scheduled a series of new public hearings in January to hear testimony related to the second permit application.

A long list of area residents signed up to address RPC members Tuesday.  These included primarily residents opposed to the project but also included residents who encouraged commission members to recommend passage of the permit.

Betsy Shifflet, who has been active with DeWitt County Residents Against Wind Turbines, addressed the commission about what she felt was Tradewind’s unwillingness to present a complete application.

Shifflet said Tradewind’s application did not include “a fully executed decommissioning plan.”  She said the decommissioning plan was required to be submitted with the application, based on the county’s wind energy ordinance, and could not be postponed until the county issued the building permit.

“Tradewind’s refusal to provide an approved agreed upon decommissioning plan should be a big red flag for all of our county officials,” Shifflet said.

In an earlier county land use meeting, Tradewind’s attorney Jim Griffin argued it was not logical that Tradewind would submit the plan before the company had a permit to begin building.

Shifflet suggested Tradewind had not submitted a complete decommissioning plan with its application because the company’s cost for decommissioning the project was underestimated.  She said in her research of other similar projects, the developers’ decommissioning estimate tended to be the lowest.

In projects of this type, the counties hosting the wind projects usually are liable for the costs of decommissioning.

Shifflet also talked about the issue of signatures missing from some of the lease agreements submitted with Tradewind’s application.  County zoning administrator Angie Sarver requires a second signature on leases when the name of the applicant is different than the landowners’.

In many cases, a developer will have signatory power for a landowner it is working with, not requiring a second signature.

Sarver said she followed county officials’ instructions to forward Tradewind’s application to the RPC.  However, she also said that earlier the state’s attorney’s office advised her to continue following her usual procedure for processing special use permit applications.

Shifflet also claimed it was not clear if Tradewind had received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) for the type of aircraft warning lighting system specified as part of its special use application.

Gail Nunnery, whose family lives in the vicinity of the proposed Alta Farms II projects, told RPC members her family’s property would be surrounded by nine of the wind turbine towers, all within a mile of their residence.

“Nine towers, all at a blade tip height of 599 feet, plus the aircraft detection lighting system east tower …are to be placed within a one-mile radius of their residence,” Nunnery said.

She felt the increase in noise level caused by the turbines and the approximately 40 hours per year of shadow flicker would be detrimental.

“The rural character over almost 12,000 acres would be forever altered,” she said.  “The wind tower project will not enhance the rural lifestyle for DeWitt County residents.”

She referred to the “viewable and undesirable effects” of the proposed wind energy projects.

Representatives from at least one farm family said their experience working with Tradewind Energy as a participant in the project had been good, while another farmer said he did not participate because he felt Tradewind representatives had not been honest with him.

Tradewind‘s presentation to RPC members in asking them to recommend the special use permit, covered changes in the company’s second application.  These included a reduction in the proposed variety of turbine makes and models listed in the application, as well as addressing concerns about the projects potential effect on Doppler weather radar.

The Tradewind presentation also covered projected revenue from the project, including an estimated $22 million in net profit over 20 years and as much as $1 million a year in tax revenue for the school district.

In a departure from other speakers at Tuesday’s RPC meeting, retired Clinton Junior High School teacher Becky Adams addressed the loss of tax revenue from the likely closure of Clinton Power Station.  And, she was the only person on either side of the issue to talk about climate change.

“I’m concerned about the amount of money that’s going to be available for our schools,” Adams said.  “As Exelon winds down over the next several years; almost half of our tax revenue comes from Exelon.”

Adams said she was concerned about the viability of local schools caused by a loss of tax revenue and about the local library district, which also relies on tax revenue.

Adams is a member of the Vespasian Warner Public Library board of directors.

She said she did not understand why people would be against green energy and not support the potential of bringing business to a local company, Arcosa (Trinity Structural Towers).  Adams also pointed out the possibility of higher property taxes in the future without the Alta Farms II project.

Adams said she believed climate change was real and, “not a Chinese hoax,” as some politicians suggest and that she wanted to secure a future for her grandchildren free of continuous weather and climate catastrophes.

Adams also said she was disappointed about what she felt was poor treatment of Tradewind officials by members of the RPC and ZBA.

In Tuesday’s vote, two members abstained. Bob Thomas cited personal financial interests as the reason for his abstention.  David Steward also abstained.

Voting against a recommendation were Monica DeGrauwe, Kevin Myers and Thomas Smerz.  Voting to recommend the permit were Mike Gardner and Randy Perring.

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