An informational meeting for county residents was held Tuesday, Dec. 8 at the V.F.W. in Emmetsburg. The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors along with the Palo Alto County Planning and Zoning Commission held the meeting to gather information regarding the proposed wind farms in Palo Alto County to help create a Wind Turbine Ordinance.
With over 30 residence in attendance, John Brown acting as moderator, got the meeting started by explaining that the meeting was not about the Supervisors or the Zoning Commission being for or against the proposed wind farm, but to strictly listen to the public and their opinions regarding a wind farm in Palo Alto County for improving the County ordinance.
“Will the wind energy be shipped out or will it stay in the area?” Janice Swanson asked.
“Power from these windmills will be going down the MidAmerican Energy line,” Supervisor Linus Solberg responded.
“Yes, but to where?” Swanson asked.
“That line actually goes to Ft. Dodge,” Supervisor Ron Graettinger replied.
“Basically it is going into the MidAmerican grid,” Supervisor Chair Craig Merrill added.
“It has to be going somewhere. We already have enough wind turbines in Iowa to supply all our energy needs with renewable fuels, so it has to be going somewhere,” Swanson said.
“If it’s not needed in Iowa, it will go somewhere it is needed and MidAmerican will sell it.” Palo Alto County Zoning Officer Joe Neary replied.
“What is the current ordinance and what legal authorization or ability does the county have to regulate these? Is the good neighbor policy type of ordinance or is there legal ability to alter the plans of the company?” Frank Veltri asked.
“Our existing ordinance is inadequate. We need to address it. We need to make it acceptable to the population of Palo Alto County. The good neighbor policy that Dr. Veltri is referring to is what Palo Alto County uses to increase the setback for hog confinements from a house when they were first putting these confinements up and using liquid fertilizer. The regulations said “Don’t splash it on your neighbor’s house” that’s ridiculous so we expanded on the good neighbor policy and have a half-mile between the confinement and the neighbor’s house,” Palo Alto County Attorney Peter Hart said.
“Agriculture is exempt from local ordinance. Iowa recognizes that agriculture is important, so it is regulated by the state. The statute for setback is less than a half-mile but we encourage it under the good neighbor policy. Wind energy is not exempt, so we have the ability on the local level to govern these and create and ordinance and enforce it.”
“What do other counties do that we don’t?” Veltri asked.
“We are looking at ordinances from Webster County, Obrien County, Plymouth County and Dickinson County and we are going to take the best of all those, refine them and make it our own,” Hart responded.
“What do they do that ours doesn’t (referring to ordinances)?” Attorney John Brown asked.
“Ours in a paragraph and ours is very vague. We need to address more than just one general paragraph does,” Hart said.
“I think we need to make clear, once again as we go along tonight, that we have a wind ordinance for the farmers and landowners in Palo Alto County but one that is also acceptable to these companies that are coming in here so that we can work together,” Solberg commented.
“If we don’t want to live in a wind farm, because I look out my window and I see all these red blinking lights everywhere. I imagine these being filled in over my head. Does anyone have any concerns about that?” Swanson asked.
“That’s a part of the easement process. Landowners can choose to sign up or not. It is not an eminent domain,” Merrill responded.
“But it affects everybody. I can see them for 50 miles from my house, so 50 miles is a long ways for a huge wind farm,” Swanson added.
“The red lights are required by the FAA. I sat on a committee to help draft Dickinson County’s wind ordinance, which is strict on hog confinements. They have three different companies with wind farms, Iowa Lakes Electric being one of them. It’s more about the setbacks, which is 1200 feet from any inhabited dwelling and 500 feet from any non-inhabited dwelling. For the personal concerns a lot of it is the shadow flicker and the noise, so that’s why your setbacks are so important,” former General Manager of Iowa Lakes Electric Terry Bruns.
Other concerns of landowners and residents dealt with aerial spraying of fields and the application of cover crops. Representative of Steier Ag Aviation Dennis Meyer was on hand to address these issues stressing that his company will not fly into a wind farm for application of any kind, as a safety issue.
“If I’m I a wind farm or near a turbine and I can’t spray my fields, will I be compensated?” Swanson asked.
“Our company policy will not work within a wind farm for safety reasons. It takes a half-mile to safely turn a plane around. Your mind has to be so dedicated to what you are doing, you don’t have time to think about the met towers, and power lines or turbines that may be near or in the area you are spraying. For this reason, we just don’t do it,” Meyer replied.
“One thing we need to move on to is easements. People need to understand they have no control over them once you sign them,” Solberg said. “There are two companies right now that are going out and talking to landowners about signing easements.”
“That’s what these companies are asking for, the entire farm,” Supervisor Ed Noonan said.
“That would concern me because then it would be an unmarketable farm,” Brown said.
“Terry, did you ask for easements on entire farms?” Noonan asked.
“No, we just took easements on the tract of land we used for the turbine and for the access road,” Bruns said.
“Why do you think these companies are asking for the entire farm?” Noonan asked.
“I really can’t answer that,” Bruns said.
“So if I sign and easement but don’t get a turbine and my neighbor does, they can put an access road across my property to get to the neighbor’s turbine?” Swanson asked.
“An easement is either all inclusive or very specific,” Hart said.
“All that I have heard tonight has been very negative, but what about the positives of a project like this. We’ve been losing property taxes in the county. It was my understanding that the turbines south of Ruthven bring in $1 million each. That’s pretty good money. This type of a project brings in money and jobs to the county. I’m shocked at how negative this meeting is. We raise more corn, beans, and cattle than Palo Alto County can use and we don’t mind shipping the extra out, so why is electricity any different,” landowner Kirby Sampson.
“Let’s also not be forgetting unintended consequences. This is a big deal. This is a big project for the county. We don’t want to be going in hell bent for lection and then regret it,” Darr said.
“Kirby said a lot of what was on my list. I definitely think that the supervisors and zoning committee need to have open minds, and I don’t really like to see the opinion pages where the supervisors are quoted and meeting going on especially when I ask to be notified. We got roads that are not even in the five-year plan to be repaired that need it this is an opportunity to bring in some money for these projects,” landowner Ray Granstaff commented.
“I think wind energy will go forward. We are trying to educate everyone so informed decisions can be made and to get your thoughts and input in creating an ordinance that will benefit all landowners and residents in Palo Alto County,” Solberg said.
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