County looking to prepare Road Use Agreement to safeguard county
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By Carmen Ensinger
Greene County Highway Department Engineer Aaron Haverfield recently attended a conference where he learned something that could affect Greene County and its ability to regulate the placement of solar and wind farms in the future. He explained what he learned at the May 11 County Board meeting.
“My understanding is that there was a law passed earlier this year that after May 26 or 27, the power is given back to the state to more or less restrict wind and solar farms,” Haverfield said. “Currently, counties have their own ordinance in place saying that they have to be so far away from cities and houses.”
Some of those ordinances are made to deter these wind and solar farms from locating in specific counties.
“These ordinances are so restrictive so the state is having difficulty with those so now they made this law that removes those ordinances,” Haverfield said. “So, now those setbacks are shortened. Instead of the county saying five miles out of town, it is like 1.5 miles. That goes into effect at the end of this month so you have up to then and if you don’t have something in place then, whenever that law goes into effect you can’t put something in place.”
Haverfield wants the county to come up with a Road Use Agreement (RUA) that will be in place by the May 26-27 deadline.
“This RUA will basically become your safety net,” Haverfield said. “There is an attorney, Cheryl Chutney, who is working with Macoupin County trying to get theirs squared away and she also did the one in Mason County and she is really good.”
Haverfield said he was reading through the Mason County RUA and was impressed by some of the stipulations she had included in it.
“For example, the wind farm has to buy the Highway Department a fully decked out ATV to do inspections on all the culverts in the county,” he said. “Then, if they go down a road they are not supposed to, there is a $5,000 fine – there is no warning – and then it goes up from there.”
Haverfield said Chutney was actually the speaker at the conference he just attended.
“She gave a 45 minute lecture on wind farms and RUA and she has the same fear as everyone else,” Haverfield said. “And that is that once this May 26-27 deadline comes in and basically backs up all the possible restrictions, they will start popping up everywhere.”
Board Chairman Andrea Schnelten said she received a phone call from a concerned landowner/farmer who had just received a letter from a solar company telling them that they are coming in next year.
“This solar farm has not been brought to our attention yet,” Schnelten said. “I guess they just sent letters to the farmers telling them that they are coming in next year before they notify us.”
Haverfield said that is two of them that he has learned of in just the last year.
Schnelten said she was talking with County Assessor Jill Waldheuser about these solar and wind farms.
“We got into the conversation about taxing and how, prevention-wise, how do we protect ourselves from these and what impact they may have on our county and the farmers and landowners,” Schnelten said. “Jill basically has been given a set way that she has to tax them, so she didn’t really see that there was an opportunity to add in any additional taxing, per se, on them. But she basically said the way we can manage them is through this (RUA). So, my personal opinion is that we need to protect ourselves. We definitely don’t want to wait on the state to tell us what we are going to do and if it is through a RUA then so be it. I think we need to think about seeking Cheryl’s help to develop this RUA and obviously time is of the essence.”
As for the cost of hiring Chutney to help prepare the RUA, Haverfield said her fee is actually taken care of by the wind and solar farms.
“I read through the one in Mason County and there is a clause in there that they (wind farm) is required to pay all attorney fees for her managing of the RUA – there is no fee out of your pocket for her,” Haverfield said. “She makes profit from the wind farms themselves.”
The board agreed to allow Haverfield to contact Chutney to help with the RUA.