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County Board takes no action on wind energy rules

Several commissioners expressed support for strengthening wind-energy regulations beyond a current proposal, but the Lancaster County Board took no action Tuesday after a four-hour public hearing on the package.

Most of the more than 30 people who spoke also sought greater restrictions than those in the proposal.

Roma Amundson, the board’s chairwoman, said she supported strengthening the regulations regarding noise levels and increasing the distance required between wind turbines and adjoining homes or properties.

Amundson, a Realtor, said wind turbines would hurt nearby property values.

The board plans to consider the wind-energy regulations at its Tuesday meeting and may vote on the package then.

A proposal by Oregon-based Volkswind USA to build more than 50 wind turbines in southern Lancaster and northern Gage counties prompted the proposed regulations, which would update existing wind-energy regulations for Lancaster County.

The Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Commission on Aug. 20 approved the proposal currently before the County Board.

The two main issues address setback – the distance from individual wind turbines to nearby properties and homes – and the noise generated by functioning wind turbines.

The proposed regulations call for a setback of 1,000 feet from homes. For nonparticipating properties, the setback from a home would be three times the height of a turbine as measured from the blade tip at its highest point.

For smaller lots of 10 or fewer acres, the setback distance would begin at the property line. For larger lots of more than 10 acres, it would begin at the home.

As for noise, Lancaster County is considering a limit of 50 decibels during the day and 42 at night. The Planning Commission had considered noise limits of 40 decibels in the day and 37 at night, which planning staff and the city-county Health Department had recommended.

Several Lancaster County commissioners said Tuesday they were concerned the Planning Commission’s recommendations don’t go far enough to protect landowners who aren’t planning to lease their land to wind-energy companies.

Commissioner Deb Schorr said she supported noise limits of 40 decibels in the day and 37 at night. However, Commissioner Larry Hudkins said 40 decibels during the day seemed too restrictive, but 45 decibels during the day would be more reasonable.

Hudkins, a farmer, said he would like to see the regulations revised to measure setbacks from property lines rather than homes. He said measuring setbacks from homes would discourage many affected property owners, especially farmers, from improving their properties.

Measuring setbacks from property lines would force turbines to be located farther away from nearby properties, he said.

“We should be able to use our property as we want to,” he said.

Commissioner Todd Wiltgen said he wants setbacks to be uniform for all property owners, though he didn’t take a stance on the proposed regulations. Commissioner Bill Avery also didn’t take a position.

At Tuesday’s hearing, wind-energy supporters said even the Planning Department’s proposed regulations could severely restrict development of turbines in the county. Those opposed to the Planning Commission’s proposed regulations, meanwhile, said the rules would allow turbines to be located too close to nearby homes, which could negatively affect people’s health.

Scott Holmes, environmental health manager for the Health Department, said wind turbine noise can cause physiological reactions, including loss of sleep and increased heart rates and blood pressure.

Jeffrey Wagner, director of Volkswind USA, said the company chose southern Lancaster County and northern Gage County because of their rural settings and proximity to transmission lines running to NPPD’s Sheldon Station, which the company could use.

“It’s an agricultural setting,” he said.

Amundson said the nearly $700,000 in property tax revenue the project would generate shouldn’t be a major consideration for county officials.

“It doesn’t really move the needle that much,” she said.