Putnam County Board unanimously amends wind and solar energy regulations

‘Instead of sitting on the sidelines, we thought we’d better be prepared,’ Chairman Charlie Lenkaitis says

Wind farm in southeastern Lee County north and east of Compton, Illinois.

In response to Illinois establishing statewide standards for commercial solar and wind facilities, the Putnam County Board unanimously approved a text amendment updating regulations governing solar and wind energy in unincorporated portions of the county during a May 23 special board meeting.

“I think we now have a really, really strong ordinance to stand on that is just slightly more restrictive than the state’s,” said Chairman Charlie Lenkaitis. “This gives Putnam County some autonomy from the state so we can have a little bit of skin in the game.”

State standards were set Jan. 27, meaning counties in Illinois were required to bring their existing ordinances into compliance by May 27, otherwise the state ordinance would supersede anything the county previously had in place.

“We had an ordinance that we thought was not very protective of the citizens and a lot has changed since we first set one up,” Lenkaitis said. “Wind towers are a lot taller now and there’s a lot more than you can ask the wind companies to do as far as noise mitigation, flicker and FAA lights.”

Putnam County Zoning Officer Ryan Giacometti previously submitted an application containing the proposed amendment to the Putnam County Zoning Board of Appeals and the Putnam County Planning Commission.

The Putnam County Zoning Board of Appeals then conducted public hearings on May 17 and 18 before the proposed amendment was unanimously recommend by the PCZBA.

“This gives us a chance to say to our citizens that we are trying to protect them as much as we can.”

—  Putnam County Chairman Charlie Lenkaitis

The approved amendment for wind energy conversion systems and commercial solar energy fields includes guidelines for setbacks, design and installation, operation, decommissioning plan, platting requirements, good neighbor provisions and fees.

The amendment also said the good neighbor provision may be modified in individual cases for good cause shown after a review of the project and applicable requirements by the Putnam County Planning Commission.

“This gives us a chance to say to our citizens that we are trying to protect them as much as we can,” Lenkaitis said.

Lenkaitis also noted as of May 23, no permits had been requested from the county to build a wind farm in Putnam County and this move was made preemptively in the case there is interest in the future.

“Instead of sitting on the sidelines, we thought we’d better be prepared,” Lenkaitis said.

This ordinance does not act as an official approval or denial of wind and solar projects in Putnam County, but rather sets the requirements in the case of a future application.

According to Giacometti, any application for a future wind or solar farm would require a public hearing for a special use permit, a planning commission hearing and a recommendation to the county board for final approval.

“The restrictive elements on special use are very comprehensive and road use agreements are very comprehensive,” Giacometti said. “The Department of Agriculture has very strict permitting including storm water and mitigation efforts. So there’s a lot.”

Thousands of solar panels make up a farm used to power the Kendall County Jail, Health Department and Courthouse.