August 12, 2011

Board OKs wind farm ordinance

Written by Rob Daniel, Iowa City Press-Citizen, 12 August 2011

Johnson County is a step closer to having its own wind farms after the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved a new ordinance governing their use Thursday.

The new ordinance would allow for a commercial wind energy facility to be built on agricultural land as long as the turbine did not exceed 55 decibels in noise level, was at least 1,000 feet from an occupied building and each turbine had a permit approved by the supervisors. The owner of the turbine also would be responsible for paying for any damage to roads caused by the installation and maintenance of the machines, according to the ordinance.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said it was a matter of being more energy efficient.

“I think we have to do more to be energy efficient and go on an energy diet,” she said. “If we’re unwilling to (allow wind farms), we’d better be ready for a nuclear plant or a coal-fired plant in this area.”

The passage of the ordinance comes on the heels of Chicago-based PNE WIND USA Inc. announcing in February plans for a 3,000 acre, 30 megawatt wind farm that will open in late 2012 or early 2013 in Solon.

Keith Kurtz, PNE’s project manager for the planned wind farm, said the turbines are quiet and typically have brought in more money from rental of the half acre of land used for the machine than in planting a crop.

“I’m in three different projects, and I love it,” he said.

The passage of the ordinance, which supervisors said was being developed before PNE announced its plans, did not come without hang-ups, however. Several neighbors of the proposed PNE wind farm said they were concerned about the noise and potential health effects from the turbines.

However, supervisors said they visited wind farms Aug. 1 in Story County and said they found them to be relatively quiet. Their main hang-up was whether the turbines should be set back from occupied buildings more than 1,000 feet and how much control they should have on the permit process rather than the Johnson County Engineer’s Office.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to pass the ordinance.

“I don’t want us to be in a situation where we’re ‘no’ from the start,” Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. “I wanted Johnson County to be at the forefront of the renewable energy production.”

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