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County tables wind talk

The requested waiver on wind energy development in Ellis County will resurface for further discussion June 2 after county commissioners opted to table action Monday.

Commissioners agreed to postpone making a decision until the Joint Planning Commission, which is in the process of reviewing and amending wind farm zoning regulations, has a chance to discuss the request and make a recommendation.

“I think we need to allow them to finish that process. Pushing it through is just going to make it more contentious,” Commissioner Perry Henman said. “I think we need to get our rules and regulations straight so that every project doesn’t become as contentious as this one. I think we’re jumping the gun if we push this through.”

It was standing-room only in the commission chambers as commissioners discussed the recently proposed project application, which officially will be filed if a waiver is granted.

Last September, a conditional-use permit requested by Hays Wind, a proposed project owned by Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA, was denied by commissioners in a 2-1 vote.

Zoning regulations require a year-long moratorium for reconsideration after an application has been denied. The commission, however, has the authority to waive this moratorium, and can do so by a majority vote.

This was the request brought before commissioners Monday. If granted, the waiver will shave several months off the required waiting period.

Project Manager Krista Gordon discussed changes the company has made since the original application was filed last spring. These changes include a new decommissioning agreement that calls for an initial and annual payment of $176,667 for the first 15 years of project life.

At the project’s 20th anniversary, the company would ensure an amount of $4 million by making up any difference. By the 30th anniversary, an amount of about $5.3 million would be included in the fund, Gordon said.

“One of the concerns I’ve heard at these meetings is definitely decommissioning,” Chairman Dennis Pfannenstiel said.

Another change is the project’s boundaries, which have acquired additional tracts of land and been setback 1,000 feet from surrounding neighbors.

Henman, however, voiced concern at the fact this setback would affect the neighbors’ ability to file a protest petition.

“I’d really like to see our planning board have the opportunity to finish what they’re doing,” Henman said. “I don’t really see any substantial changes except pulling back the project boundary. … I think it’s sort of a subversion to the intent of state statute for people to file a protest petition.”

Gordon said the company is willing to work with recommendations or amendments the board might make, but it’s uncertain how long this process will take.

“The discussion about proposed changes, we don’t know how long that will take,” she said. “It might be a couple of months, it might turn out to be quite a bit longer than that.”

Gordon also said the boundaries were pulled back to minimize noise and to account for shadow flicker at surrounding residences.

Other commissioners, however, spoke in favor of the project application.

“Personally, I think the company has bent over backwards to get this thing going and worked on it a long time,” Pfannenstiel said. “Our governor, our president has pushed wind energy. Any county that has wind farms that are up and running are just thrilled to death that they have them, and I do not see what the problem is with having this at all.”

“I don’t know that there’s a problem with wind farms. I’m just saying as a county … we need to let that process go through,” Henman said.

Commissioner Vernon Berens also spoke in favor of the application, which will not be officially filed unless the waiver is granted.

“Without a doubt, I think you as a company have bent over backwards. Four months, I don’t think, is going to change a great deal, whether we get everything in place – and we will never have everything in place,” Berens said. “Not according to some people. I think we need to take some action on this to proceed.”

After further discussion, commissioners agreed to table action until the zoning commission has a chance to offer input.

“I don’t see a problem with that,” Berens said. “I just feel that the zoning board is in place, and they’re the ones that need to ask all these questions. All we’re providing here is a waiver. Whether the zoning board would go along or recommend a waiver to us, I don’t have a problem with that.”

By Kaley Lyon

The Hays Daily News

6 May 2008