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Proposed Wind Energy Ordinance Discussed At Zoning Board Hearing

By Staff | Aug 16, 2016

(EDITOR’S?NOTE – This is the first of two installments on the wind energy ordinance hearing. The second installment will be publishing in the Aug. 18 issue of The Democrat.)

Well over three-dozen residents and landowners of Palo Alto County as the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, the Palo Alto County Engineer, the Palo Alto County Attorney and the Palo Alto County Auditor as well as representatives from RES Americas and Invenergy attended a meeting of the Palo Alto County Zoning Board on Thursday, August 11.

“We will be having some public comments at the beginning of the meeting, limiting speaking time to a couple minutes. There are many sides and angles to this subject. It’s not as simple as do this thing and be done with it,” Dean Gunderson, Zoning Chairman began. “We have looked at this every week and it seems like every week something new has come up.”

“I live in one of the first groups of 10 towers in southwest Palo Alto County and I have two towers on my land and I looked at it as a cash income. I have not had too many problems other than no one contacted me about changing out blades one year and there was still crop in the field,” Norlyn Stowell, landowner began. “The wind was in our favor and we got the crops out before the blade changes. If it had not worked out that way, we would have been compensated by the company.”

With the opening statement many subjects were brought up, ranging from county taxes to shadow flicker, with many statements made by landowners, residents and developers.

Bradley Evans, Project Developer with MidAmerican told the group that by the end of 2016, they will have installed 2,020 windmills and have applied for the authority to install another 2,000 between 2017 and 2020.

“To be perfectly honest, the reason MidAmerican has been able to install so many is the tax credit and in order to take advantage of 100 percent of this credit we will need to start any projects before the end of this year. In 2017, the tax credit available will be at 80 percent,” Evans said

“That is very interesting,” Gunderson said. “Would it be fair to say without this tax credit large projects such as this wouldn’t be feasible?”

“That is probably correct,” Evans said.

“There are many things in the contract that need to e addressed such as height, kilowatt output, and shadow flicker to name a few,” Ray Grandstaff, landowner stated. “I just want to make sure these things are covered. I have asked the Supervisors to have a conference with Pocahontas County to get some facts about taxes.”

Grandstaff continued, “Spraying is another big issue, but there are more ways to spray than just aerial. I think you have more control with ground spraying and a more even coverage. Alternatives are always presenting themselves; we just need to look at both sides of the issue.

“Do you feel that the Zoning Board and the Supervisors have been open enough at meetings for getting information?” Gunderson questioned.

“You’ve given enough time for people to talk, but we have been short getting people to attend,” Grandstaff responded.

“I am primarily here as a supporter of wind energy. Tax revenue from this economic enterprise has gone to schools. We hear everyday that the main reason we have poor economic growth is over regulation. So far what I read, I think it could be a lot simpler. Most of the counties involved in wind energy it’s been a boom for those counties,” Jack Kibbie, former Iowa Senator said. “I think this is a good first step.”

Kibbie was not the only person to speak in favor. Others mentioned the economic impact this business would have for our county and our future. The comments brought up issues that had not been looked at before such as future impacts and industry coming to the county.

“Renewable energy is very important but it does have a significant impact on migratory birds,” Mary Barrick began. “We have a lot of conservation land in this county and look at what may happen in the future. I do feel proper siteing is crucial and I am concerned about the wild life.”

Several comments in favor of the project cumulated in one landowner stating that the document (ordinance) is pretty negative toward the wind energy companies, creating a lot of hoops for them to jump through, possibly too many.

“Prior to these project,s have any environmental studies been done?” Scott Kibbie, county resident asked.

“Yes, we do an extensive study in accordance with rules set by the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources,” Mason Swanson, Project Developer with RES Americas replied. “All study results have to meet minimum requirements. One of the things we are required to do is to count eagle nests in the project area.”

Setbacks from property lines, aerial spraying and shadow flicker seemed to be the tree biggest issues as the meeting continued.