The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday will consider regulations for wind generation towers and systems.
Consideration of the text amendment to county zoning regulations will include a public hearing at the meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. With the wind farm issue having a long and controversial history in the county, no formal action is expected on the text amendments that will be coming before commissioners for the first time, a fact signaled by the County Commission’s consideration at the same meeting of a measure to extend the moratorium on wind farms through July 31.
The county has had a moratorium on wind-generated energy systems since December 2013. The moratorium was in response to the county’s lack of regulatory language concerning wind towers that came to light when NextEra Energy of Florida applied for a conditional use permit to install two meteorological towers to measure wind speeds in southern Douglas County.
The County Commission followed that initial action with a study session on wind energy development in February 2014 and extended the moratorium on several occasions before directing county staff to work on the new regulations last year.
The measure commissioners will consider would establish a two-tier approach to regulating wind generation towers. Proposed text amendment language will regulate those for personal and small commercial use, which are defined as towers with a generating capacity of 50 kilowatts or less for consumption on site. Those applications would be addressed with building permits, with language developed to address setbacks, height, appearance and other effects on neighboring properties.
Large commercial applications, such as the NextEra Energy proposal, will continue to be considered through the county’s conditional use permit process. To make use of the conditional use permit process possible, the text amendment adds wind towers as a permitted CUP use. It also establishes the application process for developers, which requires a general concept plan, defined construction phasing, the amount of property to be disturbed or cleared and forbids transfer of the CUP without the County Commission’s approval.
The proposed CUP language addresses the visual, noise, soil erosion, water quality, cultural heritage and infrastructure impacts of proposed towers.
The CUP process would require the developer to notify all property owners within a 1-mile radius of the proposed site. It would also stipulate towers be set back from adjacent property lines the distance equal to 110 percent of the towers’ height plus the length of blades and that no residential structures can be closer than 1,500 feet to towers.
The CUP also has language regulating the decommissioning and removal of towers. Applicants would be required to maintain a surety bond with the county as payee to ensure towers would be removed.
NextEra Energy’s initial CUP application has expired. It is noted in background information provided to the County Commission that the company has indicated to Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug that it still plans to explore the potential of wind power in the southern part of the county.
The company briefly did install a meteorological tower northeast of Baldwin City without a permit, which was removed in June 2015 with its discovery by county codes officers.
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