The Palo Alto County Zoning Commission held a regular meeting, Thursday, April 14, with over 25 landowners, representatives from the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, Palo Alto County Attorney Peter Hart, and representatives from both wind development companies in attendance, to discuss the proposed Commercial Grade Wind Energy Conversion System Ordinance for Palo Alto County.
“Originally, the intent of the meeting tonight was to go through the proposed ordinance and have discussion with the Commission and the public on some decisions that needed to be made regarding separations, decommissioning and some wording throughout the proposal,” Dean Gunderson, Palo Alto Zoning Commission Chairman began. “There have been some changes as of yesterday as far as language.”
“That’s right. We’ve had some outside sources look at our draft and MidAmerican offered to look at it as well and there is some areas where our language wasn’t straightforward and that caused some confusion. We did not have all the terminology the same throughout and consistent, so most of the comments were more just with having a clear ordinance for the public and how it had to be followed by industry,” Joe Neary, Zoning Officer said.
Gunderson went on to add that drainage districts and how wind farms affect them had been brought to the attention of the Zoning Commission. With the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors spending much of their time on drainage problems and drainage districts, it was determined that a look should be made and some form of inclusion into the ordinance should be made for this area.
“It looks like these wind farms will affect multiple drainage districts going forward, so we contacted Jim Hudson, Drainage Attorney with Hudson Law Firm of Pocahontas, and he had some ideas he thought we should look at and incorporate into our ordinance,” Gunderson said. “Unfortunately, we could not get this into the ordinance by tonight and we felt tonight it wouldn’t be fair to go through and act on an incomplete ordinance at this time.”
Public discussion was opened up at this time on topics ranging from aerial spaying to setbacks to actual benefits of the area.
“My main concern is the affect these turbines will have on migratory water foul. I would like to see a setback of a mile from wetlands and lakes,” Steve Pitt, former Palo Alto County Conservation Director had to say. “I would at least hope some protection would be included for our natural resources.”
“What does the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommend right now?” Linus Solberg, Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors Chairman questioned.
“They don’t have a recommendation specifically in feet. Most of the information I have received is that the DNR will look at sensitive areas of public land and make a determination. Everything that we have had to look at tells us that these companies have to go to the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife and they will map out those critical areas before bring the proposed tower site map to us,” Neary said. “Actually, the DNR has more power over this than the county.”
“Is this a done deal?” asked area resident Dave Parate. “Is this a question of regulations or if they are going to be put in?”
“We are trying to address an ordinance for the county and I guess it is up to whatever ordinance we draw up, it would be up to the individual companies if they want to present a plan and follow our guidelines. If that works for them, I guess they will be here,” Gunderson responded.
A question was raised about where the power would go. The understanding is that the developer would sell to possibly a local company. The energy generated here would be dispersed along this line to where it is needed, whether it is locally or perhaps Chicago, IL.
“We are here because this is not a done deal, which is why we are still talking to landowners. As far as where the power goes specifically, that is still yet to be determined further down the road,” Mason Sorenson, Senior Development Manager of RES Americas said. “There are lots of companies, both large users of electricity and utility companies that are looking around the state for wind energy to buy.”
“Is it just passing through to go somewhere else or what is the benefit to our community?” Parate asked.
“Well, the benefit to your community would be the landowners would have leased payments, which would be an individual landowner decision and then there are the tax benefits both to the community schools and the county and then there are environmental benefits as well.”
“So if landowners want to get paid to have one, then everyone else gets to deal with these things in the air,” Parate said.
“It just seems, someone the other day was remarking about small stores and small hardware stored like in Ruthven have gone out of business because of the Hy-Vee’s and Walmarts. This is just one more thing about industry just planting these things in our backyard and little by little what is out here, and I come from California, so to me this is great.” Parate said. “We had these wind farms out there when I was a kid and now they are coming out here. I don’t know, it just seems like the industrial revolution has finally catching up with Iowa. I don’t know if everybody’s ok with this. They are kind of an eye sore.”
“I farm in Eastern Palo Alto County and in Kossuth County, as well as Dickenson County and I also have an aerial spraying service that has been here 62 years. My biggest concern is protection of the landowner in amongst these farms and can’t do anything about it,” Denny Hansen, area farmer and business owner said. “The biggest concern is how the farmer has to manage his production now because his neighbor chooses to be in this and sign a lease. I think setbacks are huge.”
“If we don’t have large enough setbacks, it makes it extremely hard to fly in amongst these things. The larger the setbacks the easier it is to fly. The two things that wind companies don’t want to talk about is safety and liability and these are pretty huge in the areal spraying business. The rights of the people that don’t want them is what I think the county needs to protect.”
“What would be a comfortable setback for you?” Gunderson asked.
“Right now, we have a policy that we will not fly in them. We will fly right up to the property line if we can. A 2-mile separation between turbines would be ideal, but I don’t know if the wind companies would do that,” Hansen responded.
“Will there be something written in the ordinance as to how many turbines will be allowed in the county so they cannot come back in 10 years and add another on to a farm that has one already?” Janice Swanson, county resident asked.
“We do not go back into a wind farm and add turbines. Because of the wake effect, there must be a specific distance between turbines for wind speeds to increase. We can and have gone in and repowered a turbine if something goes wrong with it or technology improves,” Soreneson said.
With some further discussion in which the Zoning Commission was commended for looking at all aspects of a wind farm and learning more regarding areas of concern of county residents, the following comments were made
“The Supervisors want to remain neutral and it seems like every time we have a meeting, it leans toward the negative. We want to represent our constituents the best way we can,” Solberg said.
“We have one chance to get this right and we need to take time and yet get it done so that progress can be made one way or the other,” Neary commented.
At this time the meeting was adjourned with no further decisions being made on the county ordinance dealing with wind energy, feeling that further investigation and discussion was neded.
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