The rules of the game are set, according to Ellis County Commission Chairman Perry Henman.
He, along with Commissioner Glenn Diehl, voted in favor of approving the rules – a revised zoning code for commercial wind energy systems – Monday night.
On a 2-1 vote, changes to the regulations that have been talked about for years were approved and will be implemented upon publication of the resolution commissioners signed Monday.
The new rules call for increased setbacks in commercial wind projects, something Henman and Diehl believe will entice wind companies.
“I think they’ll know the rules,” Henman said of potential wind developers. “They’ll know what they have to do.”
Taking effect in the new regulations is a 10-times-the-tip-height setback from rural residences – a point of contention throughout the regulation changing process. For a 400-foot wind turbine, the setback would be 4,000 feet.
Diehl said after looking at Hays Wind LLC’s proposed map, 85 percent of landowners in the project area aren’t participating in the wind project.
“We want to see 85 percent of those people participating,” Diehl said. “Once you get that level of participation, you won’t have these problems.”
But Commissioner Dean Haselhorst, the only opposing vote, doesn’t believe increased setbacks are the answer. After distributing a list of other county setbacks, Haselhorst, in his first month as a county commissioner, questioned the rationale for the setback from residences.
“I’m just wondering again what rational basis do we have to justify a 4,000-foot setback in the county other than the one thing I can see is to eliminate wind energy,” Haselhorst said.
Haselhorst was on the Ellis County Joint Planning Commission when it reviewed the changes twice and submitted recommendations.
“There’s no question that what you have in front of you is substantially different than the last recommendation from the planning commission,” County Counselor Dennis Davidson said.
Haselhorst said he wanted to see 2,000-foot setbacks from residences in wind projects, but Henman said an increased setback reduced the county’s need to regulate noise in the projects.
“It wasn’t scientific,” Henman said of the 10-times-the-tip-height setback from residences. “It was just a compromise of all the stuff we’ve gone through.”
Along with wind energy regulations in Article 27-104, rules for waiving the prescribed setbacks were amended in Article 20-101.
“That section has always provided a process whereby regulations and requirements pertaining to height and open space and setbacks … could be adjusted or modified,” Davidson said. “With respect to the conditional-use permit process, it could be adjusted or modified in the conditional-use permit application and consideration and eventual granting process.”
Monday’s meeting was moved to the third-floor courtroom in the Ellis County Courthouse so the meeting could be recorded and to accommodate the more than 50 people who turned out to hear the discussion.
Commissioners answered few questions that were shouted out during the meeting and took no public comment on the changes.
Commissioners made no additional changes to the regulations Monday before approving them.
Included in the new zoning regulations for wind energy are:
* A 10-times-the-tip height setback from rural residences.
* A 1.5-times-the-tip height setback from federal, state and rural secondary roads and a 1.1-times-the-tip-height setback from all other county roads.
* A 1.5-mile setback from village districts, rural plats and rural developments.
* A 3-mile setback from incorporated cities. Hays and Ellis already have a 3-mile buffer zone.
* A 1.5-times-the-tip-height setback to the east and west of the tower and a 3-times-the-tip-height setback to the north and south of the tower from adjoining property not under lease by the developer.
* A notification and protest petition area of 2,000 feet.
* A noise standard of less than 40 decibels adjusted when measured 5 feet above ground level at any residence, school, hospital, church or public library.
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As a result of discussion on the regulation changes Monday night, Diehl addressed what he considered to be the “800-pound gorilla” in the room – electric utilities.
He said he believes passage of the new regulations could allow the county to present a united front to utilities looking for power from wind projects.
“Are we going to show Westar that we can get beyond our disagreements in Ellis County and move forward where they say maybe it’s worth the risk to purchase power from Hays Wind,” Diehl said. “Or are we going to show them that no, we’re still at each other’s throats and we can’t get along. … Wouldn’t it be better to say we can work through these problems. Wouldn’t it be better to show these utilities that they can do business in Ellis County.”
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In other business:
* Commissioners approved a conditional-use permit for Hays Wind LLC to expand its project westward to accommodate moving 15 turbines as outlined in a settlement agreement reached in 2009 between the county and 21 plaintiffs.
“That’s the final prerequisite to implementation of the settlement,” Davidson said.
The new zoning regulations do not affect the Hays Wind project because setbacks for that project were outlined in the settlement.
* Commissioners approved the final payment and a certification of completion of work for repairs to Bridge 710, located just west of the Russell County line on Old U.S. Highway 40.
* Commissioners approved a fully-insured health insurance policy, which is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1. The policy is estimated to cost the county more than $2.7 million.
* Commissioners approved the purchase of 24 electronic poll books to be used during the Nov. 2 general election. The county’s share of the cost was $3,004, with the state picking up 90 percent of the cost.
* Commissioners agreed to sign a resolution declaring Aug. 23 a disaster in Ellis County. The declaration would allow entities such as Fort Hays State University, the county and local power companies to submit claims for damages as a result of the storm that hit Hays.