After months of discussion, the Gage County Planning and Zoning commission has settled on decibel requirements for wind farm regulations.
The commission approved the 12-page proposal following a two-hour public hearing Thursday, where area residents for and against wind energy shared their views.
Ultimately, the commission approved limits of 60 decibels for participating landowners and 47 for non-participating landowners.
Participating properties are those under an agreement with a wind energy system company, while non-participating properties are those that are not under an agreement.
Other levels considered were 45 and 50 decibels.
The 47-decibel limit also allows for an additional 5 decibels at certain times to account for ambient sound.
The proposed guidelines will now be considered by the Gage County Board of Supervisors for approval. The board has proposed a special hearing on the subject, scheduled for March 17.
Michael Dekraker, who lives southwest of Cortland in northwestern Gage County, spoke in favor of more strict regulations. He said loose regulations regarding noise would be unfair to nonparticipating property owners in the area.
“We’re talking about what’s reasonable to the people that are not participating,” he said. “The people that are participating, that’s their call. Why should somebody else affect me on my property? That’s uncalled for. That’s not anything that I fought for when I was in the military. I fought for my rights and everybody’s rights.”
Other highlights of the regulations include a pre-construction study and setback requirements of 1,650 feet or three times the total tower height, whichever is larger, from a nonparticipating property.
The complete document can be found on Gage County’s website.
Decibel levels and setback requirements have been heated issues for months as the commission reevaluated the county’s wind regulations, which haven’t been changed since they were adopted in 2010.
Around 30 people attended Thursday’s public hearing for the discussion.
David Schwaninger asked for more lenient regulations, saying the revenue generated by wind farms would help the area.
“Everybody talks about the kids and worry about the kids,” he said. “ I don’t think we should bring anything that’s not safe to the kids, either, but they all want to send their kids to a very expensive school. Something’s got to pay for it.”
Paul Hay, University of Nebraska extension educator, cautioned against the limitation of decibels, pointing out the nuisance of a wind turbine is often in the ear of the beholder.
“Decibel standards or people’s sensitivity to noise is extremely variable,” he said. “The ambient noise that we have in our community now could be extremely variable.”
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.
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