DIXON – Some Lee County residents fear that wind companies may skip town and let their broken wind turbines stand forever. They point to other areas where this has happened.
But a wind energy company interested in building a wind farm in Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties says legal obligations keep firms from leaving without taking care of business.
On Thursday, the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals spent more than an hour discussing how to handle abandoned turbines. It’s part of its monthslong effort to make changes to the county’s wind energy ordinance.
At the meeting, Franklin Grove resident Steve Robery recommended the county require companies put up the entire amount it would cost to take down wind farms.
The firms should do it upfront, he said. They would get the money back after they took down the turbines, he said.
He disagreed with suggestions that the amount exclude turbines’ salvage value. Removing that value, he said, would give a company incentive to skip town and leave the taxpayers responsible for taking down the turbines.
Matt Boss of Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power, which is planning the three-county wind farm, said he was “offended” at the idea that his company would skip town. He said his firm and others had contracts with landowners saying they wouldn’t leave.
Boss backed the idea of a decommissioning plan for turbines. He suggested that a company would contribute annual payments to a fund starting a decade after construction.
After more discussion, Boss presented a compromise in which wind energy companies could make payments starting possibly in the first year, similar to a depreciation plan.
Residents warned that the county shouldn’t let landowners, usually farmers, end up with the responsibility of removing unused turbines.
“What leverage would a farmer have with a multimillion company? It’s a stretch to say the farmer can enforce the contract,” said Richard Boris, the village president of Lee.
Bob Logan, the village president of Franklin Grove, agreed.
“The turbine doesn’t become the property of a farmer. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s the farmer’s,” he said.
Zoning board member Tom Fassler supported the idea of having wind energy companies put up the money for decommissioning upfront.
Late in the discussion, members considered requiring companies to put up some kind of bond. They agreed to delay a decision until their meeting in 2 weeks.
The board has been meeting twice a month since the summer considering changes to the county’s ordinance.
After the panel completes its job, its recommendations will go to the Lee County Board, which has the final say.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals next meets at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 in the County Board meeting room on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St., Dixon.
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.