County changes wind agreement; Larger setback, lower noise required of developer of Wildcat Wind Farm
Wind turbines planned for eastern Howard County will be farther away from non-participating properties than previously agreed. Howard County and E.ON Climate & Renewables recently negotiated an amendment to the economic development agreement that affects the Wildcat Wind Farm.
The placement of the turbines has been a topic of at times heated discussions between the Howard County commissioners and local residents during the past several months. Many residents don’t want any wind farm development in the county, citing safety and health concerns and the impact on property values.
After almost three hours of discussion Monday, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve amendments to the agreement with E.ON. The target date for the signing of the documents is Aug. 5.
The agreement will affect two phases of the proposed development.
The changes include:
• A 1,500 foot setback from the residence of a non-participating property owner and 1,250 from that of a participating property owner
• A change in the allowed noise level from 55 decibels to 50 decibels for non-participating and 52 decibels for participating property owners
• A Federal Aviation Administration approved light shield to limit the observance of the red lights on top of the turbines
• Shadow flicker restrictions
• Wetland protection changes
• A 10 percent payback by E.ON on the 10-year tax abatement, approximately $750,000.
“We’re disappointed the Howard County commissioners took an extremely tough stance on wind development in the county that will impose significant siting constraints on our project,” E.ON spokesman Matt Tullis said in a statement. “In our opinion, these county standards go beyond any established design standards allowed around the country where communities and wind projects exist compatibly side by side. However, we respect the duty of the commissioners to balance the diverse interests of their constituents in order to encourage economic development.”
Tullis said E.ON will continue to move the project forward bringing proven economic development that will benefit all of Howard County.
Tyler Moore, president of the board of commissioners, said the county needed to bring the discussion to somewhat of a close and move forward.
Commissioner Paul Wyman said in 2009, when the wind ordinance was adopted, the county was looking for a way to diversify the local economy.
“Wind energy looked like a good opportunity to our community,” he said.
Wyman said he knows neither E.ON nor local residents will be 100 percent happy with the compromise.
He said the $750,000 being paid back by E.ON could be used to fund a property value guarantee for property owners near the proposed wind farm.
“There is no agreement similar anywhere in the country,” Wyman said. “This gives some peace of mind to residents in the area.”
Commissioner Brad Bray said if the amendment had not been adopted, the E.ON project could go forward with the original setback and noise level restrictions.
“This is better than what we have,” Bray said.
When asked why the setbacks were not from the property line rather than the residences of non-participating property owners, county attorney Larry Murrell said that would essentially kill the project.
“This is a compromise between killing the project and setback from residences,” he said.
Wyman said because of the contracts in place with E.ON, the compromise allows the county to honor the agreement and avoid potential litigation.
Residents opposed to the development wanted a 1,500-foot setback from property lines.
Opponent Grace Aprill said the noise levels included in the amended agreement could possibly harm children in the rural area.
Wyman said he contacted communities where wind turbines have been located for up to a decade and found there were no reports of ill effects on children.
“This is not about kids getting sick,” Aprill said. “It’s about damage to the inner ear that may not show up for years.”
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