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Lincoln County may approve a countywide wind energy conversion system ordinance in February.
During a review of a pared down, 10-page draft of a proposed ordinance last week, commissioners rejected the concept of wind districts and opted instead to apply the ordinance across the county with the exception of incorporated municipalities.
They will decide in February whether to adopt fees to cover staff time in handling applications for wind tower permits by developing companies that include First Wind Energy and Shell Wind Energy.
County Manager Tom Stewart reminded commissioners that at their March meeting, a lengthy and restrictive proposed ordinance was reviewed and put aside for a two-month public comment period. At their meeting in May and after reviewing written comments from members of the Corona Landowners Association and development companies, commissioners decided not to adopt the ordinance. They asked the interested parties to get together and see if they could come up with a simpler version that worked out any sticking points.
“Curt Temple, our planning director, assumed the mission of working on an agreeable ordinance,” Stewart said. “He corresponded and met two times with concerned parties to produce the attached ordinance for discussion. He points out that commissioners will have to establish a permit procedure.
“The timeframe between now and the Jan. 13 commission meeting is very tight in terms of affording sufficient public notice.”
Commissioners agreed to move the public hearing to their February session.
Temple said the draft was reviewed by all sides and was revamped several times. Some additions were included from the Corona Landowners group and from the companies.
Jim Miller, former president of the Ruidoso campus of Eastern New Mexico University and an advocate of alternative energy development, also was involved as a neutral party to help smooth out any lingering issues, Temple said.
Leon Porter with the landowners association said the process was lengthy and members appreciated the commission giving them an opportunity for input. They think the ordinance will represent the county well and that developers will be able to work with the terms as they come into the county, without being too restricted.
Commissioners Eileen Sedillo and Jackie Powell said they heard compliments about the process and the resulting product from those participating.
Commission Chairman Tom Battin said the aim was protection of the public and landowners, while allowing development to occur.
Earlier in the meeting before commissioners decided to apply the ordinance countywide, County Attorney Alan Morel said the proposed ordinance was a “very good draft,” but he had a few minor comments.
He pointed out the wind districts were proposed as overlay districts, which is a zoning concept, and because the county has no zoning, he would prefer applying the ordinance countywide.
If the activity is restricted to districts, the commission must declare a legal reason.
Temple said no maps would be needed if the ordinance was applied countywide.
“I would think you would want the same regulations, if one sprung up near Ruidoso,” Morel said. “And what exactly do you want them to supply in an application, the same as to the state or minimal? We need to refine that and do you want to charge any fees?”
Battin said he had the same problem as Morel restricting areas of development. He has seen a wind farm go into an area and then expand significantly later, he said.
Temple said the districts were created based on the areas identified as wind avenues, including the whole southeast, but excluding places such as Ranches of Sonterra and Alto Lakes Village, where a wind farm might create negative impacts.
“But since they have to meet certain criteria, it would be hard to go into an area close to population centers,” he said. He will review what information and fees are being required by other counties for applications, Temple said.
“I thought if we were moving ahead today, we could define that before the hearing,” he said.
Porter said the landowners would leave the decision to commissioners whether to go with districts or to apply the ordinance countywide. “We understood it could be countywide and we’re perfectly fine with that,” he said.
Temple said he also received that feedback from representatives of the development companies.
Although Morel said he wasn’t sure a fee was necessary, Porter suggested an application fee should be charged to cover the time required for staff review.
“I think the county does need to take a look at fees, because as these come forward, Curt Temple will have to take time to review them and (County Assessor Paul) Baca too, the effect of payment in lieu of taxes. It will take some of your staff’s time and commissioners should take that into consideration and ask companies and department directors to suggest some fees.”
Battin directed Stewart and Morel to come back with suggestions for appropriate fees and application information.
“I think there should be some fee,” the chairman said.
Powell joked it should be minimal, “like $5 or a cup of coffee.”
Sedillo said Temple is doing a great job with the wind ordinance and she would like him to attend a conference on the bonding process in Denver, Colo. of associations of counties requested by the state of Wyoming.
But Stewart said he has not yet seen the agenda for the conference and is not sure it would benefit the county. More important would be to watch the New Mexico State Legislature, which is considering some regulations for adoption.
Sedillo said based on her past experience, she doesn’t trust the state. “It may harm us in some way we don’t understand,” she said. “So far, no one has asked for any bonding, which is good. I just don’t want wording in state law to interfere.”
Battin asked Porter if delaying action until February would create any issues for the landowners. Porter replied there is no rush for passage as far as landowners are concerned.
“The state is looking at an ordinance, along with independent power producers in New Mexico,” he said. “It may be to your benefit to have this in place and then look at what the state does.”
Sedillo said with a change of administration at the state level including the governor, “It could be awhile before we see anything come out of the state.”
Temple said he was contacted by an attorney for the Legislative Counsel office asking for a copy of an early draft of the wind ordinance, “because they were looking at something up there.” He will send the office the new draft, Temple said.
Battin said he hopes in the future, the same process of interaction and consultation of involved parties can be used to develop other ordinances.
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