Decibel levels and setback requirement concerns related to wind farm regulations dominated the Gage County Planning and Zoning Committee’s meeting Thursday evening.
The committee has been discussing updated wind farm regulations for months, and hoped to have a final draft sent to the County Board of Supervisors by the end of last year.
Progress has been slow on the heated issue, and more than 30 people for and against wind energy development attended Thursday’s meeting.
Michael Dekraker, who lives southwest of Cortland in northwestern Gage County, spoke in favor of more strict regulations, citing health concerns for his children.
“My oldest child has a sensory disorder,” he said. “We needed to move him to a place where he could be at peace, if you will. I’ve seen a map that proposed a wind generator across the street and approximately 1/8 to 1/4 mile away from my house. This, I feel, would be detrimental to my family.”
Much of the discussion has focused on setback requirements for commercial wind operations.
Under the latest proposal discussed Thursday evening, commercial wind turbines would require a minimum setback of 3/8 mile, or four times the total height of the tower, whichever is greater, from any residence on a non-participating property.
Commission member Dennis Rosene proposed amending the setback requirement to 1,650 feet, or 5/16 of a mile. This motion was approved by the board and was amended in the regulations.
The proposed wind regulations identify non-participating properties as any property that is not the subject of an agreement with the wind energy system owner or operator, while participating properties are those that are under lease or other property agreements with the owner or operator.
Current platted subdivisions approved prior to Sept. 1, 2015 would be required to have a minimum setback of 1/2 mile from the turbine to the nearest property line. Those approved after Sept. 1, 2015 would be required to have a setback of 1,650 feet, or three times the tower height, whichever is greater, from the turbine to the property line.
Platted subdivisions for every town within Gage County that does not have applicable zoning regulations would be set at 1/2 mile or four times the height of the tower from the nearest property line.
The proposal also calls for a pre-construction noise study that includes all property within a mile of a turbine’s base. The results of the study would be reviewed at the time of the application.
The proposed regulations also included various decibel limits for consideration, including flat regulations of 40 or 45 decibels.
Under one proposal, it was discussed that decibel levels for participating residents would not be allowed to exceed 60 decibels.
For non-participating residents, it was proposed a limit of 40-45 decibels with an allowance of an additional five decibels for 60 minutes.
The committee did not determine which option it would like to move forward with, and will continue discussion at its next meeting.
Recent discussions were prompted by a proposal from Volkswind USA last September for a wind farm.
Joseph Wood, Volkswind project manager, said more stringent regulations weren’t in place when the Steele Flats wind farm was created, and would likely hinder future projects in the area.
“We have reviewed (the regulations) and have some concerns that the significantly increased setback distances and the lowering of sound limits sends a message to wind developments that wind projects are not welcome in Gage County,” he said. “We think the existing regulations that were set in place during the development of the Steele Flats project are sufficient to protect the health and safety of the community and allow for a reasonable platform for wind development.”
Volkswind officials have previously stated that a 100-megawatt wind farm typically generates $650,000 of brand new property tax revenue for the life of that project, producing more than $15 million in property tax revenue over a 30 year life.
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.
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.
When the Steele Flats wind farm in southwestern Gage County was established, wind turbines were limited to 60 decibels. That wind farm would be exempt from any new regulations.
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 committee’s next meeting will be Thursday, Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m.
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