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County adopts wind regulations

The Gage County Board of Supervisors strengthened commercial wind energy regulations before approving them at Wednesday’s regular meeting.

Gage County Planning and Zoning previously recommended a cumulative plan for wind regulation to the board in February.

The board amended various aspects of the proposal before approving it, most notably increasing setback requirements of wind turbines and lowering the maximum decibel level for non-participating land owners.

Participating properties are those under an agreement with a wind energy system company, while nonparticipating properties are those that are not under an agreement.

Part of the commission’s recommendations was a noise limit of 60 decibels for participating properties and 47 for nonparticipating properties.

Board member Matt Bauman moved to lower the maximum decibel level for nonparticipating properties to 45 decibels during the day and 40 at night.

The decibel limit allow for an additional 5 decibels at certain times to account for ambient sound. Nighttime hours were defined as from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Previous regulations called for a maximum decibel level of 60 for participating landowners. The board amended this to allow sound levels to exceed 60 decibels for participating landowners, if the landowner reaches an agreement with the wind energy company.

Board member Erich Tieman suggested more lenient decibel limits, saying the limit of 45 could prevent wind developers from locating in northern Gage County, which is more populated in the rural areas.

“There may be an opportunity to put some there, but these developers are going to look where they can put up a wind farm,” Tiemann said. “They don’t want to put up a wind tower here and there.”

The decibel limit for nonparticipating properties has been the most contested aspect of the regulations, and neighbors of potential wind farms expressed concerns that noise levels would disrupt the daily lives of themselves and their children.

Board member John Hill reiterated safety concerns previously expressed during numerous public hearings over nearly two years when he supported the lower decibel limits.

“As far as the study on the sound and the effects on humans, I guess at this point I’d rather be on the conservative side with the lower dBA,” he said. “At some point in time you might look back and say well this doesn’t have to be this restrictive, but it will evolve. I think over time you will see some effects there.”

The board ultimately voted 5-2 to lower the decibel limits for nonparticipating landowners, with Tiemann and Gary Lytle voting in opposition.

A pre-construction study will be required under the approved regulations.

Planning and Zoning recommended setback requirements of 5/16 of a mile, or three times the total tower height, whichever is greater, from a residence on a nonparticipating property.

Increasing this setback requirement to as much as 1/2 mile was discussed, but the board ultimately approved a setback requirement of 3/8 of a mile.

“I feel that 5/16 is too close,” said board member Terry Jurgens, who supported the 1/2 mile option. “If you took your setback and went a half mile, that would take care of the noise limits and everything else, I feel. I have to put myself in that position, and say I’m sitting on the deck of a house and looking 5/16 of a mile away and I see this thing every time I go out there. To me 1/2 mile is not too much to ask for.”

The motion to enact a 3/8 mile setback was adopted 6-2, with Hill and Jurgens voting in opposition.

The complete document of proposed regulations can be found on the homepage of Gage County’s website.

Gage County’s prior regulations were adopted in 2010 and limited turbine noise to 60 decibels. The Steele Flats wind farm in southern Gage County was constructed under these guidelines and will be exempt from new regulations with additional restrictions.