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Special Segment: Power Struggle

March 31, 2009 9:16:51 PM PDT
Decision day is coming soon on plans for a $400 million wind farm in southern DeKalb County. Illinois has more wind energy projects in development than any other state in the union save for Texas.

The wind farm proposed for DeKalb County is among the biggest. It will mean green energy, jobs, and cash for landowners who lease property on which the turbines will stand.

But there are other landowners - many of them - who believe this wind farm is ill-conceived and will wreck a lifestyle and landscape they treasure.

The flat, rich farmland of DeKalb County is a sight that many of its residents love.

"There's nothing like it. Nothing else like it," said John Pitstick, Dekalb County homeowner.

When John and Pam Pitstick stand in their front yard later this year, they may see five turbines within a half mile, 1,400 hundred feet off the west side of their house.

"Within two miles of our house, there's 27 turbines going up," said John Pitstick.

Florida Power and Light wants to erect a wind farm with 151 turbines not far from a wind farm in neighboring Lee County. Each of the turbines planned for southern DeKalb County would be 100 feet taller than these with their blades topping out at 400 feet above the ground.

"We would never have chosen this location had we known there would be wind turbines 1,400 feet from our home," said Mary Murphy, DeKalb County homeowner.

There are over 200 homes within the footprint of the proposed turbine farm. Angry homeowners say they'd be surrounded by what amounts to 40-story towers that move, and blink and make noise 24 hours a day.

"There are areas where these can be put up and not close to people's homes," said Steve Rosene, DeKalb County homeowner.

The issue is so contentious that a public hearing on it ten days ago lasted 19 hours.

The hearing officer late last week concluded that a zoning variance necessary for the turbines to be built should be denied because of questions about noise and property values.

Some previous studies have said that wind turbines do not diminish neighboring property values. But the DeKalb County hearing office said experts still disagree significantly on that.

"I have not seen anything in the literature, here or in Europe where they have a lot of wind farms, where it says property values decline," said Ruth Anne Tobias, DeKalb County board chairman.

Long-time DeKalb County board member - and now chairman Ruth Anne Tobias - supported a wind farm proposal for the county five years ago and is inclined to support the new one.

She says she is sympathetic to the concerns of the effected homeowners, but believes majority opinion in the county supports the wind farm, the tax revenue it would bring, and the role it would play in the bigger picture.

"Green energy is important to this country. It's necessary. We have to think differently," said Tobias.

The windswept farmland is attractive because of its proximity to the electric grid and a big city. Florida Power and Light sweetened its bid on Monday saying it would guarantee against any property value loss for its wind farm neighbors.

"That means it's a much better proposal and it switches my vote essentially," said Pat Vary, DeKalb County Board Member. "I would vote for it."

These wind farm neighbors are unimpressed with the utility's revised offer, and vow to keep fighting.

Florida Power and Light commissioned and paid for a phone survey last week which it says shows strong countywide support for the wind farm proposal. But beyond surveys and public hearings, on Wednesday night, the county's planning and zoning committee will vote on the plan, and whether the outcome is yea or nay, the full county board is scheduled to vote on the project April 15.


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