Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County Board gave a big thumbs up to wind turbine farms Thursday night. County Board members voted 24 to 2 with one abstention to approve zoning rules which will allow the construction of large wind farms on agricultural land, if a special use permit is granted.
Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz championed the wind farm ordinance in the Environment and Land Use Committee. He estimates that 200 wind turbines operating over the next 20 years in the county could bring in 250 million dollars in revenue to landowners and local governments. And Kurtz saw more benefits, noting that "there are hundreds of good-paying jobs that will be produced by green energy ... education in the form of revenue for schools and Parkland College .... clean air, displacements of tons of pollution in the air ... renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
But not everyone in Champaign County is crazy about wind farms. The boards of Mahomet Township and neighboring Newcomb Township filed formal protests. Herb Schildt of the Newcomb Township Plan Commission said the ordinance was weakened when the map amendment component was removed, meaning neighbors of proposed wind farm sites cannot file formal protests. "If it is good and proper to require a map amendment for something as small as a beauty shop," said Schildt, "then it must also be good and proper to require a map amendment for something as large as a wind farm."
But representatives of two wind farm developers say the ordinance as originally presented would have been too restrictive to allow them to build in Champaign County. John Doster of Invenergy and Jeff Polz of Midwest Wind Energy said they were pleased with the ordinance in its final form. They say their companies hope to submit applications for wind farms in Champaign County sometime in late summer or fall.
The Champaign City Council is not protesting the Champaign County Board proposal to allow wind turbine farms in the county --- but it does have a suggestion.
Council members voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to ask the county board to consider extending the city's buffers outside its borders where it has a say in zoning decisions to 2-and-a-half miles for wind farms. It's currently 1-and-a-half miles for all city zoning issues. Councilman Tom Bruno says he supports wind farms, but believes it's important that they not be built close to areas the city has slated for future development.
"I think that sound planning would have these wind farms, if they're appropriate for Champaign County, be built at a little safer distance from what is already inhabited municipality to allow for years of possible future growth without the conflict between wind turbines and residential housing," Bruno said.
Bruno supported a protest of the county board proposal, but the measure was narrowly defeated, 5 to 4. By the same margin, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution asking the county board to simply give them the 2-and-a-half mile zoning buffer. It's a request that's already been turned down by the county board's Environment and Land Use Committee. The full Champaign County Board will consider the wind farm proposal Thursday night.
The Champaign County Board is expected to vote this month on a proposal to allow the development of wind turbine farms on agricultural land. Some Champaign city officials say that's fine with them --- if the county inserts a new rule to keeping the wind farms further away from the city.
Champaign and other communities already have a mile and a half around their borders where they can overrule the county on zoning. It's called 'extra-territorial jurisdiction" or ETJ. For wind farms, Champaign city planners and the city Plan Commission recommend asking the county for an additional mile of ETJ. Land Development Manager Lorrie Pearson says they want to make sure the city can grow without bumping up against a wind farm. "Whereas today if a wind farm is located immediately adjacent to the ETJ, in the future it may actually be within the ETJ or perhaps even within our growth area," Pearson said. "So we want to really look at how our city grows and have that be more consistent with our comprehensive plan rather it be regulated by wind farms that are existing within our county."
The Champaign City Council hasn't discussed the matter yet, but the County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee will look at the ETJ request at their meeting tonight, prior to a county board vote next week. Committee Chair Barb Wysocki isn't commenting on the idea. But she says the current proposals for Champaign County wind farms would be built well away from Champaign.
The Urbana City Council will not join Newcomb Township in trying to block passage of a county zoning ordinance for wind turbine farms. Council members voted unanimously Monday night not to file a protest against the county board zoning proposal.
The proposal would allow the construction of large wind turbine farms on land zoned agricultural, under a special use permit. Mayor Laurel Prussing says council members support wind farms. She says wind turbines can provide an alternative energy source that dovetails with the city's support for conservation and sustainable energy. "The city will do what it can in terms of energy conservation and sustainability,"says Prussing. "But we see the production of energy as a key ingredient in solving this whole problem, and that's why we are in favor of wind energy being used."
The Champaign County Board could vote on the wind farm zoning ordinance at its May 21st meeting. The proposal is currently in committee.
The Newcomb Township Board voted last month to protest the proposal. Their protest means it will take a super-majority --- or 21 votes --- for the measure to pass the Champaign County Board. In Champaign, the city's Plan Commission will discuss the proposal at its meeting on Wednesday.
Zoning rules for wind turbine farms in Champaign County won the approval of a county board committee Monday night on a 7 to 2 vote.
The Environmental and Land Use Committee endorsed rules regulating large arrays of wind turbines up to 500 feet tall on agricultural land. Currently, Champaign County rules only cover small individual wind turbines or windmills.
Committee members decided to cut the size of the buffer required between wind farms and the nearest dwelling. The proposal called for at least a 1500-foot buffer. But committee Chair Barb Wysocki says a 1200-foot buffer is more common, and preferred by developers. "The developers who were at the meeting admitted that 1500 feet would not necessarily be a deal-breaker," says Wysocki. "But it would encourage them to rethink the configuration of the wind turbines and their placement in Champaign County.
County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall says he's hoping for quick county board approval next month of the wind turbine rules, so that developers already looking to set up wind farms in Champaign County can take quick action.
In the meantime, the wind farm zoning proposal remains with the Environmental and Land Use Committee for public comment. If a local government in the county decides to protest the rules, that would force a super-majority vote on the county board for the proposal to pass --- 21 votes instead of 14.
One of the leading researchers of a plan for securing the nation's power grid says any long-range strategy will have to include a number of protections.
William Sanders heads the Information Trust Institute at the University of Illinois. It's part of the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid, or TCIP, which includes work at three other universities. Sanders says recent news reports of attempted cyber attacks on the grid show it has real vulnerabilities, and need to be taken seriously. He says the consortium is responsible for rebuilding the grid's entire Information Technology infrastructure. And Sanders believes it's not a simple matter of blocking out one hacker's virus:
"Too much today, the problem is that people take band aid approaches," says Sanders. "Patch a vunerability here, patch a vulnerabllity there. And obviously we should do that. But the real solution is looking forward to a new architecture that ends this sort of cat and mouse game that we have going right now." The White House isn't providing any details on the recent 'intrusions' to the power grid. Sanders says any serious attempt will likely involve a number of things in sequence that include not only cyber attacks, but physical damage. He says a 'cascading' failure could also occur, which may involve human error as much as the other factors.
TCIP is a $7.5 million dollar project funded by the National Science Foundation... with support from the US Departments of Energy and Homeland Security.
Officials at Archer Daniels Midland's massive Decatur ethanol plant are showing off an 84 million dollar project to study a way to keep more carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere.
ADM is the first of seven sites around the nation to begin the process of storing more than a million tons of CO2 deep underground rather than letting it escape into the air. Researchers point to CO2 as a key factor in global warming.
Illinois State Geological Survey director Robert Finley says the experiment is beginning with a test well dug more than a mile into the rock formations under the plant to see how well it can handle the injected gas.
"With a relatively pure source of CO2 coming from ADM's ethanol fermentation facility here in Decatur combined with excellent geology suitable for testing carbon sequestration immediately below the Decatur area and in fact throughout central Illinois, that gives us an opportunity to carry out this test here at Decatur," Finley said.
It'll be another year before ADM will actually inject large amounts of CO2. Finley believes the Illinois Basin can hold many times more carbon dioxide than ADM, the proposed FutureGen coal plant and other industries in central Illinois can produce.
Everyone is spending much more on energy these days, and the University of Illinois is no exception. Curbing the cost is just one goal of a new Office of Sustainability on the Urbana campus. It's meant to draft and supervise new conservation efforts, but also to reduce the amount of pollution the University creates - whether it's exhaust from Abbott Power Plant or old computers and other electronic waste. The office's first director is Richard Warner, a wildlife ecology professor and formerly an administrator in the College of ACES. He tells AM 580's Tom Rogers that his first priority is simply to take stock of all the programs already in place.
AM 580 is joining with public radio stations across the country to look into how the Presidential race impacts rural residents.
The debate over alternate energy sources like wind and solar power is not only aimed at reducing dependence on natural resources like coal and natural gas. Driving cars and using other machines rely more on these sources. While John McCain stresses greater production of oil, and nuclear energy, Barack Obama speaks more of using alternates. One getting a lot of attention in recent years is ethanol. But lately, supply and demand have hurt the development of new facilities that produce it. AM 580's Jeff Bossert looks at how the state of the industry is affecting two rural Central Illinois towns and what the presidential candidates' energy policies could mean for their future.
In small towns across the country, many people have decided that a cheaper way to get around is to leave the car in the garage and pile into the golf cart. Golf carts and other small slow-speed vehicles are becoming more appealing to people living in areas where traffic is low, but gas prices are high. In Illinois, several small towns are allowing golf carts on their streets --- while others are holding back. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
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