Last Tuesday was rather significant in DeWitt County government. The county board voted 6 to 5 to approve a windmill farm proposal, subject to some amendments. The meeting was held outdoors at the public square in Clinton to accommodate COVID concerns. I personally had reservations about an outdoor meeting, but the weather cooperated, and from a technical point of view, the setting worked very well. Everybody cooperated in setting up the sound system, closing the streets, and providing for access to those who wished to address the board. Board chairman Newberg thought outside the box by suggesting the outdoor setting to make the meeting itself work.
While the meeting itself was effective in achieving a resolution, only time will tell if that resolution will work for the residents of DeWitt County. There have been meetings ad nauseum on the development of wind farms in DeWitt County. Experts, both supporting and opposing the wind farm proposal, addressed the planning commissions. Legitimate concerns were voiced regarding weather radar interference, taking highly productive farmland out of production, the simple aesthetics of having turbine towers on the landscape, and what the agreements were for decommissioning the towers after their useful life. The bottom line was those in opposition simply do not desire to have the flat central Illinois prairie inundated with towers into the sky.
Those in support of the wind farm voiced the aspect of clean energy. Wind does not leave a carbon footprint that occurs with coal and gas power plants or the nuclear end waste product of highly radioactive rods that need to be disposed of. The green energy folks love wind farms. The other major support argument was the revenue generation for local landowners and the tax payments that would benefit local government. The bottom line argument was that money talks and the wind farm was a means of spreading the wealth.
That money argument has been a component of DeWitt County government for years. DeWitt County has some of the lowest property taxes in the area. The Clinton school system also has low tax rates compared to other school districts. Why for both? Both entities have benefitted from the nuclear power plant and a garbage waste facility.
The bread and butter of DeWitt County finances is Clinton Power Station and Area Disposal in the taxes and fees they generate for the county. Both tax producers have a limited tax producing life span, and with the power plant that time span may be rapidly coming to an end. DeWitt County does not have any real industrial base for tax revenues. Our residents go to other counties to work. A major employer in DeWitt County is the school systems and they are likewise a major consumer of tax revenues. Some view the wind farm as a panacea for tax revenues. It will not be, but it will provide revenue that benefits the county and the schools.
With a county board vote of 6-5 in support of the wind farm, it is obvious that there is no consensus to build the wind farm by the residents of DeWitt County. The issue seems to have divided much of the county, and that division will probably remain for several years. Those opposed to the wind farm are discussing taking legal action via a lawsuit to challenge the wind farm. While anyone can file a lawsuit, litigation is costly and time consuming and with no guarantee of what the outcome will be. Many with whom I have talked regarding the wind farms are simply tired of the debate. They have accepted the county board’s vote and want to move on.
The question is at what cost will the revenue generated by the wind farm be offset by the social and other expenses generated by the wind farm. That is the great unknown. Time will ultimately provide the answer.