Less may be better, but Lincoln County commissioners decided Tuesday that trying to handle wind farms without any ordinance to ensure performance isn’t an option.
With concurrence from members of the Corona Land Owners Association, they directed County Manager Tom Stewart and County Attorney Alan Morel to work with the group and with representatives of two wind power developers to come up with a streamlined ordinance to cover the basics.
Earlier in the meeting, Com-missioner Dave Parks suggested slicing the ordinance from a proposed 23 pages submitted by consultant Mel Patterson to about seven pages. Issues to be covered would include advanced communication with military installations, security to ensure reclamation of defunct turbines, and restoration of roads and land sites.
Mack Bell, an officer in the landowners association, said while he knew the intent of the lengthy ordinance was responsible development, most issues already are covered in state and federal wind turbine regulations, or in contracts between First Wind and Shell companies and the private land owners. The contracts cover roads, noxious weeds, placement of turbines, aesthetics, reclamation and the impact on the community, he said.
“We chose from among different developers and considered what each could do for our community and schools,” he told commissioners. “We don’t see a need for an ordinance. We ask the county not to move forward and we think this is good for economic development in northern Lincoln County.”
“Since we would be relying on private contracts to protect the county, could we get copies?” Stewart asked.
Matt Desmond from First Wind said the contracts are proprietary, however, they probably could provide specific paragraphs covering the issues that concern the county. Bonds will be secured to ensure reclamation, he said.
But Morel said if the county relies on private contracts, it has no right to enforce any terms. “In 25 years, if a landowners couldn’t afford to have it enforced, there is no way the county could step in without an ordinance,” he said.
A landowner could be left with non-functioning turbines worth millions of dollars on his property, along with the higher tax bill, County Planning Director Curt Temple pointed out. He also worried that wild fires could be sparked by the turbines.
Once ignited in that area, “It would be like the Gallegos Fire and would just keep going and going,” he said.
Parks asked if Steve Elliott, president of the landowners association, could come up with a draft ordinance codifying the issues that are important.
The current developers may be solid, but what about future companies, he asked.
Elliott said he’s proud of the negotiations association officials accomplished on contracts after narrowing down to two companies from the original 14 surfing the area.
Fairly extensive provisions cover reclamation, remediation and the type of bond, he said, adding, “We’re the ones potentially owning land with defunct windfarms.”
While he was critical “of the extensive omnibus ordinance,” he said members would be happy to participate in a process to come up with a simplified ordinance dealing with specific issues. An ordinance should be pro-development and in Lincoln County, there should be no problem siting wind farms in the north away from populated areas.
Commissioner Eileen Sedillo emphasized she’s interested in “something real simple in the event something happens that a property owner couldn’t pursue (reclamation).”
Elliott said it would benefit everyone if the contracts and ordinance were consistent.
Commissioner Don Williams seemed reluctant to eliminate too many requirements, but Commissioner Jackie Powell said over-regulation and environmental requirements are part of the reason for a large electric rate increase being sought by a utility company.
Temple said that, in any case, the plats of the wind farms must be approved by the county.
A representative of White Sands Missile Range said she was at the meeting to be sure prior notification and good channels of communication are mandated between developers and military installations. Better to review locations in advance to ensure they do not interfere with a military mission than after installation is underway, she said.
“You should remember that the military brings a lot of money to the state and I don’t think anyone wants to hurt that possibility,” she said. The air space above 200 feet is used by military and most turbines are taller than 200 feet, she said. However, placement and lighting can avoid later conflicts.
Desmond said his development company researches things such as radar, radio, microwave and cellular signals before placing turbines. But he added, “I think those are things that can be put in an ordinance to protect Lincoln County and its citizens and allow for development.”
He volunteered to work with Stewart. Morel and Elliott, saying, “Let’s get this done.”
Elliott said the association never objected to giving notice to the military. “It’s not an issue with us at all,” he said.
Sedillo asked why Patterson didn’t respond to 32 issues of disagreement in the proposed ordinance outlined by the association. Elliott wrote Stewart that they “were very disappointed to see such minor changes to the draft ordinance,” and he offered to meet to work on the terms.
Patterson said developers could request waivers to requirements in the ordinance. The purpose of an ordinance was to minimize negative impacts and to protect the safety of the public, address environmental issues and give ample opportunity to comment early.
But Elliott said the ordinance in its long form would put the county at a competitive disadvantage with other wind locations. Developers spend millions of dollars preparing, but would be reluctant if they had no way of knowing if a waiver or exemption would be granted to such strict requirements, he said.
Commission Chairman Tom Battin said he’d like to see an appropriate ordinance for the mutual protection and benefit of the parties and covering any obvious safety and environmental issues.
The officials should come back with a recommended minimum ordinance that does not impede responsible development, but protects the county and its residents to day with current developers and in the future with unknown developers.
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