The Sugar Creek One wind farm would have 116 electrical energy
generation machines, producing 1.6 megawatts each, spread out over
17,700 acres located west of Lincoln.
Doug Thompson acted as
spokesman for the appeals board, with acting members Dean Toohey,
Rick Sheley and Judi Graff present. One other member, Wilbur Paulus,
owns land in the territory and excused himself from the proceedings.
Thompson announced that the hearing was to look at property
concerns and support for a special zoning district conditional use
of land that the project would require.
He set a few ground rules to enable a civil, impartial and
orderly hearing, asking that all comments be addressed to the board
and questions be kept to the topic.
He also asked that comments be kept to a five-minute limit on
topics that have already been discussed, but that longer would be
allowed if it were a new topic. Attorneys would be allowed 30-minute
Representatives of Sugar Creek began by presenting core
information on why the area was chosen, how locations for turbines
were determined and how the electricity would be transported.
Then several experts were asked to summarize their findings and
opinions on both required and optional studies that were performed.
The project is owned by three companies: American Wind Energy
Management of Springfield, which has brought their familiarity with
the locale and expertise in planning; Oak Creek, a California-based
company that specializes in wind farm construction; and The Wind Co.
out of Austria, which is a supporting business.
Project manager Stan Komperda began by saying that the location
is good because of the nearby electrical grid access and good wind.
The county ordinance calls for turbines to be set back 1.1 times
their height in feet from any primary structure. The company
optionally chose significantly larger setback distances of 1,500
feet, with most at 1,750 feet.
Side agreements with local entities include repairing any damaged
field drainage tiles and roads, as well as coordination,
cooperation, special training and planning with local fire, weather
and emergency experts.
There would be $9,500 per turbine escrowed, plus lots of copper
for scrap metal in the project to cover decommission costs.
Studies and compliance with federal agencies
Equipment has been spaced to meet requirements of the Federal
Communications Commission in regard to noise pollution.
The field would be lit in accordance with Federal Aviation
Administration requirements. The 73 turbines around the perimeter
would be lighted, and scattered inner turbines with quarter-mile
minimum distances would also be lit.
Studies were started three years ago looking at natural resources
that might be threatened or the presence of endangered species in
the project footprint.
The planners have worked with the Illinois Environmental Agency
to avoid storm water pollution, with a primary emphasis to keep soil
from being washed away during the construction phase.
Approval was also gained for construction within a flood plain.
That plan includes care not to obstruct floodwater from flowing in
or out of flood-prone areas.
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency was even consulted.
While there is one home affected that is on the National Register of
Historic Places, it is hoped that the structure may become the
central home office for the operation, Komperda said.
One of the bigger challenges to mitigate has been anticipated
interference with the National Weather Service's Doppler radar. At
eight miles out from the radar, the 0.5, 0.9 and 1.6 degree angles
would be most affected. The lowest angle picks up ground clutter.
The 0.9 degree angle is most important to incoming weather.
The mitigation with the NWS is a natural fit to the best
interests of the wind producers as well. Komperda said, "We're also
concerned for the weather. We don't want to be operating our
machines in 45-50 mph wind."
The blades are flexible and can tolerate 130 mph winds.
He added that because weather forecasting has improved to the
degree of accuracy and expectancy that it is today, the NWS
determined that there would be only five to 15 hours per year during
actual severe weather events that turbine blades would need to be
stopped to get accurate readings from radar.
Dan Fulscher, Logan County Emergency Management Agency director,
was present to discuss weather and safety concerns. He confirmed
with Komperda that there would be advance training and planning as
well as in-time communications during severe weather outbreaks. The
crew working the turbines would all become trained weather spotters
and would also be prepared to shut down the turbines, which would
already be slowed or stopped due to the weather conditions.
Input from experts
Experts in noise pollution, environmental concerns of flooding
and soil erosion, natural habitat, protecting common and endangered
species, and property values presented their information and
participated in questions and answers.
--Dr. Paul Schomer presented noise data. An expert in
environmental noise and acoustics since 1965, a graduate of Berkley
and the University of Illinois, Schomer has worked with Army Corps
of Engineers. He helped draft the Illinois Pollution Control Board
rules and regulations in 1968.
He said that the Illinois rules are a bit more complicated than
in some other states in dividing night and day allowances, adding in
land conditions and octave levels. There are also a number of use
divisions, such as commercial or agricultural. Wind turbines have
the most stringent requirements compared with other sources.
Using various charts and accumulated noise between turbines over
distances, the differences between the standards and predicted noise
levels all fall below international standards and below the Illinois
code limit, except for two locations. The two locations where the
noise level is slightly out of compliance are actually uninhabitable
If people are bothered by the sound, they do have recourse. A
complaint can be filed with the pollution control board, and the
process does not require an attorney.
--Dr. Thomas, an ecologist involved in a lot of projects around
the country, has also been involved with the governor's office in
looking at the impact of wind farms in Illinois.
He's overseen studies on birds, various indigenous species, bats
and even mussels, and has watched for any red flags that should be
He said a bird study is in its third year under Fish and
Wildlife Service supervision. Both common and migrant birds
that might come through the area have been observed.
During this year's season peak he saw 91 species, with most going
up to Canada to breed. The numbers are fewer than seen to the
eastern part of the state, due to this being an agricultural area
that simply does not support as much bird habitat.
If you look at farmland, scrub and woods, the greatest variety
"of course" is found in the woods, Thomas said. He concluded that
the turbines would not have a significant impact on birds.
--Dr. Peter Poletti addressed property value impact. He was
educated at the University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University
and has a Ph.D. from St. Louis University. He also holds an MAI
designation from the Appraisal Institute and other assessor
accreditations, as well as real estate appraisal and assessment
He compiled data on properties associated with the Rail Splitter,
Mendota Hills and Twin Groves projects. He established control and
target groups and looked at home values per square foot, before and
after wind farm construction. There was a $2 average difference,
which equates to no significant difference in home prices between
the controlled and target areas.
He also presented a 2009 study by Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory of how wind farms affect property values. It determined
that there was no impact on property values. A copy of the report
can be seen in this PDF:
Lab Study Finds No Widespread Impact of Wind Power Projects on
Surrounding Residential Property Values in the U.S.")
[to top of second column]
--Dan Fulscher, Logan County EMA and 911 director, said, "We do
experience 10 severe storms a year; it's not just about tornadoes in
Logan County." He said just about every kind of weather comes
through here but a tsunami, including microbursts and ice storms.
Logan County has over 200 weather spotters for "ground truth."
Questions and answers
The floor was opened to questions for the experts to answer, as
they would not be returning for Tuesday evening's hearing.
--Debra Vasey questioned how fast the blades can spin and how
quickly they can be shut down during a storm.
In answer, she was told that the tip speed might be 150 mph
maximum but that because of early warning forecasts, the turbines
would already be going slowly enough to shut down quickly, if not
stopped already, before a storm's arrival.
--Aaron Frietag, a State Farm agent, said that State Farm has
sometimes refused to provide insurance because it is thought that
ice that might be thrown off up to a mile.
According to Fulscher, Logan County receives more ice than any
other county in Illinois.
There are no known reports of ice having been thrown. Komperda
said that ice throws don't occur. Ice falls as thin sheets dropping
off the blades as it thaws.
The issue would be settled in agreements with landowners for
liability and insurance.
--Steven Smith, who worked on engineering with the Rail Splitter
Wind Farm suggested that people with any concerns ask Rail Splitter
landowners about their experience.
--Kenny Hunter asked what noise they make and whether it could
get louder with age.
Komperda said it's hard to compare the sound with anything. He
also urged those interested to make a trip to Rail Splitter and
listen both upwind and downwind, but he added that it would not get
any louder with age.
--Mike Mollohan questioned statistical evidence, the influence on
property values, and the effect that density (number of turbines in
an area) and height (taller turbines) might have.
Poletti responded that there were slightly taller turbines in
some of these situations.
Statistics in the report were based on actual sales figures
collected in the McLean County Courthouse, and he actually took four
or five days and went to the field to see those houses as well.
He added that during permitting and construction, prices might
vary. People get nervous over new types of projects, even good ones,
whether it's a park or wind turbines.
In perspective, only two properties sold after Rail Splitter went
He also observed that when school quality goes up, property
values go up.
Approaching 2 1/2 hours into the meeting and 10 p.m., the last
questions and comments that might be answered by guest experts were
Ed Dowling said, "I can't believe that someone would want to live
near one of those towers," adding that he didn't like the feeling
that the turbines would feel "right on top of us."
Peter Niehaus commented on how the turbines would affect country
living, migratory birds and nature. "There are thousands of geese
that land each year in this area," he said.
He also didn't see the
wisdom of using some of the best topsoil in this fashion, thereby
impinging on crop production that feeds the nation.
The project has 11,524 acres signed.
Building permit fees would amount to over $1.1 million for the
There would be $1 million each year in taxes, with an estimated
65 percent going to school districts.
Approximately $1 million a year would be paid to property owners.
A PowerPoint presentation reviewed the project development.
Planners used the new geographic information system, setting the
outer parameters and then identifying all the land parcels and
owners within the area. Then planners laid out setbacks from
structures, public roads, pipelines and homes, and finally they
added efficiency distances between turbines. When all those
processes were complete, it significantly narrowed the potential
The development team has been working with landowners on access
roads and other preferences.
The turbine tower height, blade length and generators planned for
Sugar Creek are larger than those used in Rail Splitter. They are
third-generation improved and can produce up to 1.6 megawatts as
opposed to 1.5 megawatts per location. The increase from 60 to 100
meters tall (an additional 60 feet) accesses higher wind speeds.
This also allows longer blades that capture a larger amount of wind.
The construction process begins with a deep concrete base to
which towers are bolted.
Underground tiles and copper lines would be laid to transport
electricity from each of the 116 generators to the field substation.
As electrical energy is generated, it would travel by underground
cables to a southeast corner substation. There the combined power is
stepped up to 138,000 volts that would travel 4.5 miles to tie into
the grid near Exit 123 of Interstate 155.
The infrastructure that is in place for the grid and good winds
make the proposed location "a sweet spot," Komperda said.
With the questioning of guest experts completed, the meeting was
adjourned to continue on Tuesday evening, when all comments could be
heard from those in support or opposition to the project.
Opening Tuesday evening, the project managers returned with more
complete answers to some of the questions raised on Monday.
Then the meeting returned to a new question-and-answer period.
By 9:30 p.m. everyone had been permitted to present their
concerns or support for the project.
The zoning appeals board also received a couple of lists of
comments that Thompson said they would read.
The most impressive information from a resident came from Debra
Vasey, who would be living in the project footprint. She had
concerns about the impact the wind farm would have on radar and
safety during severe weather.
Vasey compiled a full study on Nexrad Doppler radar and
affiliated weather information and thoroughly questioned the project
managers on all aspects of being able to shut down the turbines when
Thompson, acting as spokesman for the appeals board, closed
Tuesday's meeting by saying that the board would take all the
information and public comments into consideration. Some questions
were raised that would need to be answered.
The zoning appeals board would resume next Wednesday and possibly
be ready to make a recommendation to the Logan County Board, which
makes the final decision on whether to grant building permits.
The county board meets as a whole the next night, June 16. If it
has the recommendation of the appeals board, the county board could
begin discussion, and a decision could come as soon as the board's
adjourned session on June 21.
Resources for information of interest