The Howard County Commissioners are set to consider changes to the county’s wind turbine ordinance. If adopted, it is very possible that an industrial wind farm never will be constructed here.
The commissioners were expected to hear recommendations to change the ordinance at their Dec. 29 meeting. This follows a meeting of the Howard County Plan Commission, which studied the issue this fall. The commissioners requested in August that the plan commission study the issue and make recommendations on the ordinance within 90 days. That deadline passed, but in December, the plan commission made its proposed changes known.
“We went over it several times and came up with what we think is good and fair for everyone,” said plan commission director Greg Sheline. “The commissioners redid the economic development agreement with e.On, and we worked from that agreement.”
The changes will affect larger-scale wind farms, but not individual windmills used for residences, schools, or businesses. The most important change to the ordinance is how wind turbines are treated from a zoning standpoint. Currently, a wind turbine may be erected on industrial and agricultural land as an accepted use. With the proposed change, a wind turbine will require a special exception in order to be placed anywhere in Howard County.
This means the plan commission will consider each turbine individually and allow for public comment.
“The commissioners can accept or deny our recommendations, or they can send it back to the plan commission for more work,” said Sheline. “The most important thing is, under the special exception, anything can be talked about again. Personally, I don’t think we’ll see wind turbines in Howard County ever again, but if they would try to come back, all of these issues can be talked about with each turbine.
“The setbacks and decibels can be talked about. There is a lot of protection for everyone by taking these turbines out of permitted uses and making them a special exception.”
Three other changes have been submitted for the commissioners’ approval. The proposed setback for wind turbine is 2,000 feet from any adjoining property line – an increase from 1,500 feet. The plan commission also recommended that the acceptable decibel rating for a turbine shall be 40 decibels. And all wind turbines will be required to have shielding for any lights so that they are minimally visible from the ground.
“There was lots of talk about the light shields, so we added that amendment that any lights on the turbines will have a light shield to help property owners,” said Sheline.
The recommendations were not well received by the public, though the opponents of wind turbines acknowledged that the changes were more restrictive. The remonstrators persisted in wanting the acceptable sound level reduced to 30 decibels, and they reiterated requests that the property line setbacks be increased to nearly one mile.
The opponents also were dismayed that no language was introduced to address the disruption of over-the-air signals, such as radio, satellite, television, and cell phone transmissions.
In general, however, the remonstrators appeared to be tolerant of the changes. Grace Aprill, a cow farmer on the county’s east side and leader of the opposition group, expressed gratitude for the work that was done.
“Every land owner has a right to use their land,” said Aprill. “If they want to put up a large industrial turbine, he should be able to do that as long as the neighbor is allowed to use all of their property. This has been a tough issue. I thank you for telling everyone what is up.
“Things were mean, but the bottom line isn’t about anti-wind. It’s about everybody living together. Zoning ordinances make sure that we love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Not all of the residents in attendance were in favor of making changes. David Etherington, a farmer in favor of the wind turbines, spoke critically of the plan commission’s recommendations.
“I don’t know how you will justify your actions to prohibit wind turbines anywhere in the county when there is one operating at Northwestern School,” said Etherington. “How can you put validity in the arguments of the opposition for the rest of the county, but let a wind turbine operate at Northwestern?
“Your responsibility is to represent everyone in Howard County, not just one overzealous group. It shouldn’t be your job to rewrite things so they can pick and choose which businesses get to operate and which don’t. I feel this action is unnecessary.”
Etherington pointed out that the new electrical transmission lines being constructed near Greentown will emit noise at 55 decibels, yet there is no sound restriction being proposed for them.
Plan commission member Jim Papacek explained that the turbine at Northwestern was installed prior to any changes to the wind ordinance and would not be affected.
The plan commission passed the recommendation with only one dissenting vote. Howard County Surveyor Dave Duncan opposed the changes in favor of an outright ban on wind farms.
“Putting it in as a special exception is a big deterrent to the wind farms, as well as the other increases,” said Duncan. “My philosophy is, just say no. Remove the wind ordinance from the county. If there is anything in the future, then we could re-enact it.”
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