Proposed Wind Energy Ordinance Discussed At Zoning Board Hearing
EDITOR’S?NOTE – This is the final of two installments on the wind energy ordinance hearing. The first installment was published in the Aug. 16 issue of The Reporter.)
During the public meeting gon Aug. 11, Palo Alto County Zoning Commission Chair Dean Gunderson pointed out that one important fact to remember about wind farms is the fact that they are not regulated by the State of Iowa like livestock confinements. Livestock confinements fall under the jurisdiction of State in terms of agricultural regulations. The State of Iowa has control of all ordinances regarding agriculture, where wind farms fall under the control of individual counties.
“One good question is why are we doing this?” Dean Gunderson, Zoning Chairman began. “We are doing this at the request of the Supervisors who asked us to look more closely at the county ordinance. What we found is that the original ordinance did not address the issue of wind farms.”
A look at the draft of the Commercial Grade Wind Energy Conversion System Ordinance for Palo Alto County began section by section. One of the first items questioned dealt with the total height of a turbine (from ground level to the tip of a blade at its highest point). The Zoning Commission set the total height at no more than 550 feet.
“Typical height does vary and the overall height has increased. It is hard to envision turbine heights three years from now, but from our stand point, MidAmerican is looking at towers 450 to 500 feet,” said Brady Evans, Project Developer for Mid American Energy. “There are turbines out there that are taller and potentially a better fit once all the studies are complete.”
Continuing on, Joe Neary, Palo Alto County Zoning Administrator, requested that language be put back into the ordinance that would designate that “the Developer shall give notice by ordinary mail to all property owners within 5,280 feet (one mile) from the wind energy devices.
“We’ve done extensive work in O’Brien and Ida counties and this something we have never heard of. Typically for the pre-application meeting, all you do is publish a notice in the paper,” replied Dani Spangler, Project Coordinator for Inverenergy, a Wind Turbine Farm Developer. “A mailing requirement is typically for a public hearing and falls under the county’s responsibility. We have never seen this before for the pre-application meeting.”
“We wanted to be extra sensitive in making sure that everyone receives notice and this is why we added this,” Neary said. “The Developer would do a mailing for your meeting and the County would do a mailing for our meeting.”
“I would just like to expand on what Joe said,” Gunderson explained. “Where we have come up with this is livestock sites, livestock facilities. If you’ve sat here for 15 years taking heat form the public for not having information about a meeting, this is where this comes from.” Gunderson continued, “And I know it is everybody’s responsibility to find those publications, but we always have people coming to us saying they didn’t get notice.”
“We need to take a look at how people are getting their information,” Julie Barg-man, Zoning Commission member added. “Making people aware is always good. I don’t think an additional notice is bad.”
It was the consensus of the Board to restore the requirement that the Developer send out mailings to all property within one mile of wind energy devices.
Shadow flicker is an important topic to many in the county. The draft of the ordinance states “No wind energy conversion system shall be installed in any location where shadow shall fall on or in an existing residential structure. A greater setback may be required.”
“What is your opinion on shadow flicker, Ray?” asked Mike Brown, a member of the Zoning commission..
“It depends on the time of the year,” replied Ray Grandstaff of Ruthven. “Sometimes it’s longer than others.”
“What do other counties say?” Jack Kibbie, former Iowa Senator asked.
“Other counties say it is a nuisance and needs to be minimized,” Neary responded. “It’s the developers’ responsibility to take into consideration surrounding neighbors.”
“I think we should go back to the original wording and be restrictive,” Brown said.
“The language you see in the revised draft is typical of what we see in other ordinances, such as O’Brien County,” Spangler said. “And just to make a point, if you were to use the original language, tat would make it impossible for us to put up any turbines. As part of a project you are going to get shadow flicker, but we do extensive studies to minimize this issue and try and keep to around 50 hours per year.”
“You really need to think about this. Have you thought about who’s living in amongst this and how it may affect them,” said Denny Steier, of Steier Aviation of Whittemore. “Those people over there aren’t living among these things.”
The topic of setback requirements became an area that all parties expressed different opinions. Setback is the required distance a wind energy device is required to be located back from public streets, public right-of-way, overhead utilities, permanent residential dwellings, property lines and public lands or waterways.
No matter what the County Ordinance designates for a setback from public lands or waterways, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the Palo Alto County Conservation Board would have the final say.
Setbacks from property lines and permanent residential dwellings were also controversial issues.
The set back distance from a residential dwelling went through several motions and continued getting shot down.
“If you take property lines out, you are letting the developers walk all over you,” Tony Steier of Steier Aviation said. “Seriously, when you don’t let the neighboring property owner have any say in this whatsoever, you may as well let the wind energy companies manage this county.”
“We got this figure from somewhere and they are making it work so I say we should stay with it,” Mike Brown answered.
Considerable debate on the issue of setbacks continued, with several votes taken on various distances, ranging from 1,250 feet to a half- mile distance, or 2,640 feet, before a final decision was made for the setback from a residential dwelling to be a half mile, leaving the final decision on the distance to the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.
As the hearing concluded, Gunderson offered a final observation on the issue. “I am afraid that basically what it is going to come down to is neighbor against neighbor and they are going to have to get along.”
The meeting came to a conclusion after the Zoning Board adopted the proposed Commercial Grade Wind Energy Conversion System Ordinance and voted to forward the proposed ordinance to the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors for consideration and possible adoption.