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County officials earnestly tackle their wind farm studies

BOONE COUNTY – Five Boone County officials have rolled up their sleeves and energetically undertaken studies that ultimately may result in a revised set of regulations for wind farms.

While they’re all members of the county board, they have agreed to take on these responsibilities in their capacities as members of the planning, zoning and building committee. They shared some of what they found April 4, during a committee meeting in the county administration building.

Committee Chairman Marshall Newhouse gave a detailed power point presentation that included photos, graphics and plenty of the written word.

His subject was decommissioning of wind turbines, what happens to the 450-plus-foot-tall structures once they have outlived their usefulness. That is one issue likely to command a lot of attention should Mainstream Renewable Power file its request for a special use permit later this year. Mainstream is hoping to build upwards of 100 turbines on 8,000 acres in northeastern Boone County.

He used California as an example of why a decommissioning plan is necessary. “In California, there was no money for decommissioning and there they sit,” he said. “If that happens the burden falls on the landowner and as a (Boone County) board member I don’t want that to happen here.”

This county’s ordinance needs work. Newhouse pointed out there are no financial responsibility standards, no timetable. The responsibility for dismantling and removing turbines lies with the developer; he said he wants a complete plan in place before the first construction permit is issued.

Related costs should be reviewed every five years and adjusted for inflation, he said.

He saw a minimum engineering quote of $500,000 per turbine to do the work. A large crane needed to dismantle the windmill rents for $70,000 a month, which he termed “the driving factor for these costs.” But those are today’s dollars and a wind turbine typically lasts 20 years or more.

Hunt has setbacks

Committee member Laura Guerin-Hunt took setbacks, another topic that should generate plenty of discussion if Mainstream applies.

She said she was impressed by Lee County’s ordinance, which continuously asked the question, “Why are we doing this?” as regulations were being developed.

While looking at setback requirements from various county ordinances she saw 1,000 feet, as is the case in Boone County, and up to two miles. “Some communities tried to keep wind farms out of there but that’s illegal, you can’t do that,” she said.

Newhouse said a lot of the counties started with a 1,000-foot setback, from the turbine to the primary residence. But that was for windmills standing 300 feet. The farm being proposed for northeastern Boone calls for wind turbines in excess of 400 feet.

“So, is our setback still appropriate?” he asked.

There was no immediate answer, though Hunt said 1.1 times the height of the turbine “is pretty consistent throughout all the ordinances” she studied. “The natural gas people recommend 1,600 feet from gas lines,” she added. “I think our ordinance will have all considerations covered.”

“You rock,” interjected committee member Terri Glass, who is studying property rights for participants and non-participants. Member Brad Fidder is looking at the fee structure.

Hunt picked up where she left off, saying, “We don’t want to be the ones who say, ‘Oh, gee, we missed that.’”

Committee member Kenny Freeman had another key topic – roads. There will be regulations as to use of roads in the wind farm area when the turbines are brought in and when they are taken out.

He said he looked into the Bureau County ordinance, covering 28 pages and which put the county engineer in charge of inspections. “There are a number of things in there that would be beneficial to us,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ll need 28 pages of regulations.”

Next up for him will be talking with Boone County Engineer Rich Lundin about his role in the process.

The committee will meet again in May, at which time findings from the five members will be crafted into a series of recommendations for ultimate revisions to the county ordinance.

“The majority will rule next month,” Newhouse said.