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New regulations proposed to address commercial wind farms

The Lancaster County Board of Commissioners is looking at amending its zoning regulations to cover commercial wind farms.

In 2008, the County Board approved a zoning change that allows small wind turbines to be built on homes, acreages and farms in rural areas, but commercial wind farms were not addressed.

The county decided to take another look at those regulations after a developer this summer expressed interest in building a 30-turbine wind farm near Hallam, about 25 miles southwest of Lincoln.

Mike DeKalb of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department said the developer, Wind Capital Group, has not submitted an application.

“When this came in, we realized we need to look at the regulations and strengthen them for commercial wind farms,” he said.

The Planning Department drafted the amendment in consultation with the Health Department and the county attorney’s office.

County commissioners gave tentative approval to the zoning changes Thursday. They will be forwarded to the Planning Commission and the County Board for formal approval. Public hearings also will be held.

Here are some of the proposed conditions for a commercial wind farm:

* Can be built only in an agricultural district by special permit. The regulations pertain to wind turbines with a generation capacity rating of more than 100 kilowatts.

* Each wind turbine shall be no less than 1,000 feet from any property line of a dwelling not associated with the project.

* Wind turbines shall meet all Federal Aviation Administration requirements, including but not limited to lighting and radar interference issues.

* Noise levels caused by a wind turbine shall not exceed 35 decibels at the property line of any dwellings within a one-mile radius of the machine. A noise study may be required.

* A developer shall have a decommissioning plan outlining the means, procedure and cost of removing the machine(s) and all related supporting infrastructure and a bond or equivalent resource to guarantee removal and restoration.

County Board Chairman Bernie Heier expressed concern about the noise study requirement. DeKalb said all neighbors within a one-mile radius of a wind turbine would be notified.

“If they know it’s going to be an issue, they will come in,” DeKalb said, referring to a public hearing on a special permit.

Commissioner Ray Stevens said some consideration should be given to the effect on wildlife, especially migratory birds, that can be killed by rotating blades.

DeKalb agreed, saying the Planning Department will address the issue.

Commissioner Deb Schorr said the proposed amendment is a good idea.

“I’d rather know it’s in place when somebody comes along,” she said.