DIXON – Much of the debate over wind farms is about them going up. But what happens if they’re eventually abandoned?
Under Lee County’s current ordinance, the county can require the removal of abandoned or damaged wind turbines if the zoning administrator declares they’re unsafe.
But officials said there aren’t any remedies to make sure that gets done.
On Thursday, the county Zoning Board of Appeals discussed ways to improve the ordinance for when wind farms are decommissioned.
Just about everyone in the room, even wind industry representatives, agreed that the county should have a decommissioning plan.
One of the few dissenters was Mike Pratt, a Zoning Board member. He contended it wasn’t the county’s duty to protect landowners who enter contracts with wind companies.
“It’s not our responsibility to say how it [a wind farm] goes down or goes up,” he said.
Another member, Tom Fassler, said he’s not sure that farmers know that they could be required to take down abandoned wind turbines if the companies are gone.
Franklin Grove resident Kelly Robery said years down the road, widows of farmers may not have the ability to deal with abandoned turbines.
“They [landowners] should know what they’re signing. But people don’t do what they should do. They do what they want to do,” she said.
She added that the community had an interest in taking down abandoned turbines.
“The rest of us would have to look at rotting, rusting industrial crap on the landscape,” she said.
Neil Palmer of NextEra Energy Resources, a wind energy company, said many in the audience were questioning the intelligence of farmers.
“The constant refrain is that farmers are idiots,” Palmer said. “I have never met a dumb farmer.”
He and other wind industry representatives said their contracts with landowners include provisions stating that the companies are responsible for taking down abandoned turbines.
But he agreed that if companies skip town, the county needs an “ultimate backstop.” He suggested having companies post some type of bond for assurance that decommissioning takes place.
Zoning Board Chairman Ron Conderman asked that representatives of wind energy companies submit proposals for how the county should handle decommissioning issues. They agreed to do so.
Franklin Grove Mayor Bob Logan already has turned in his proposal. Another of his proposals – on how to deal with wind companies’ violations of the ordinance – passed the board unanimously Thursday.
The board plans to recommend changes to the wind energy ordinance to the County Board, which has the final say. It’s not clear when the Zoning Board will finish its work.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 in the County Board meeting room on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St.
The board will hear a presentation on how wind turbines affect nearby residents.
For more information, go to www.countyoflee.org or call the zoning office at 815-288-3643.