Gage County Planning and Zoning’s latest meeting regarding wind farm regulations ended with a decision to take the discussion back to the committee level before passing regulations on to the County Board for consideration.
The commission previously hoped to have a final set of recommendations to the County Board by the end of the year, but will now reevaluate its proposal before another public hearing is held in January.
If a set of regulations is agreed upon at that meeting, they will then go before the County Board.
At Thursday’s Planning and Zoning meeting, around 20 people gathered at the courthouse to share their positions regarding wind farm regulations, both for and against.
Recent discussions were prompted by a proposal from Volkswind USA last September for a wind farm.
David Levy, representing Volkswind USA, kicked off Thursday’s hearing by describing some of the benefits of wind energy.
“Renewable energy presents a tremendous economic opportunity, an opportunity for tax relief, not just in Gage County, but in the state of Nebraska,” he said. “A 100-megawatt wind farm typically generates $650,000 of brand new property tax revenue for the life of that project. Over a 30 year life, that’s over $15 million in brand new property tax revenue to Gage County.”
Plans for the proposed wind farm – which would be primarily in Lancaster County but occupy around 4,000 acres in Gage County – were put on hold as both counties addressed concerns regarding wind turbines.
In November, Lancaster County approved regulations to establish noise limits of 40 decibels in the day and 37 at night for wind turbines, as measured from nearby dwellings.
Larry Oltman, who lives north of Cortland, asked the Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission to stay consistent with regulations in place when the Steele Flats wind farm in southwestern Gage County was established.
“One thing I’d like to ask is that you stay consistent with your regulations from Steele Flats to the northern part of Gage County,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a deviation line or you’re going to be doing this every time a wind farm group comes into the county, if you don’t restrict it so bad that they won’t come into the county.”
The Steele Flats wind farm would be exempt from more strict regulations, if adopted by the county.
Cindy Chapman argued that lower decibel levels should be in place at least for nonparticipating land owners, who are those not under an agreement with a wind energy company.
“People are coming up here and argued, yes we did get 40 in Lancaster County and there’s a difference between 300,000 in Lancaster County and 22,000 in this county,” she said. “But we’re not arguing 40 decibels for every single resident in Gage County. We want that for the non-participants. I think you’re giving them a measure of safety that they otherwise would not get.”
Gage County’s current regulations limit wind turbines to 60 decibels, which is roughly the equivalent to the sound of an air conditioning unit 100 feet away, according to a University of Purdue study. At a previous meeting, the commission was split on if noise levels should be limited to 40 or 45 decibels.
At Thursday’s meeting, four of the six members in attendance bluntly stated they believe 40 decibels is too restrictive, and indicated 45-47 was preferable.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has a total of seven members.
Under one proposal, current platted subdivisions approved prior to Sept. 1 would have a minimum setback of 1/2 mile from the turbine to the property line.
Subdivisions plotted after Sept. 1 would have a minimum setback of 3/8 mile or four times the tower height, whichever is greater.
A complete list of wind energy regulations and multiple proposed sets of regulations can be found on the homepage of the county’s website at www.gagecountynebraska.us.
The county is also considering implementing a deviation factor, which would adjust the allowable decibel level by around 3-5 decibels.
After further revision by the county’s wind energy committee, the commission will hold another public meeting Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Gage County Courthouse.