The Clinton County Planning and Zoning Commission brought an abrupt and simple end to the county’s efforts to revamp its wind energy regulations last week at the Clinton County Courthouse.
The zoning commission voted to entirely prohibit commercial wind energy conversion systems in Clinton County on Thursday, September 1, seemingly a major victory for residents who coalesced in opposition to a previously proposed wind project by NextEra Energy Resources. The zoning commission voted unanimously, 8-0.
The Clinton County Commissioners put their stamp of approval on the zoning change this past Tuesday, September 6. The commissioners voted unanimously, 3-0, in front of a crowd of more than 25 people in the commissioners’ office.
Officially, the motion approved Thursday by the zoning commission – which was made by member Stephen Mowry – repeals county zoning ordinance 13.11 as it pertains to commercial wind energy conversion systems and will replace it with prohibition language.
The zoning commission instituted a moratorium on all wind energy applications in December 2015 in order to review the county’s wind energy regulations. That process – which started in June and wrapped up last week – included hours of expert testimony and thousands of pages of evidence concerning amendments to the zoning order put forward by the turbine opposition group Concerned Citizens for the Future of Clinton and DeKalb Counties. Those initially proposed amendments sought stricter regulations on wind turbine operations and stronger protections for nonparticipating landowners.
During these trial-like hearings, both Concerned Citizens and NextEra Energy – each represented by their respective legal counsels – offered expert testimony and evidence on a long list of subjects, including setbacks from nonparticipating land, limits on noise and shadow flicker, environmental effects, property values, and the possible impact on livestock operations.
On Thursday, the zoning commission opened the floor to public participation, which was overwhelmingly in favor of stricter regulations and protections. Residents voiced their concerns about possible wind turbine operations for more than four hours, and according to Clinton County Zoning Administrator Beth Farwell, nobody came forward in opposition to the proposed amendments.
Bruce Burdick, chairman of the Concerned Citizens for the Future of Clinton and DeKalb Counties and a 35-year resident of Clinton County, was the first to speak Thursday afternoon. He urged the zoning commission to approve proper turbine setbacks, adding that NextEra Energy often fell back on “industry standards” in their defense of the county’s previous regulations.
“Quite frankly, we should expect more than the industry standard in our county,” said Burdick, who is a former member of the zoning commission.
Shatto Milk Company – located on Highway 33 in north-central Clinton County – has been a vocal supporter of strong wind energy regulations. Owner-operator Barb Shatto asked the zoning commission for several restrictions Thursday, including zero tolerance for shadow flicker, noise limits of 35 decibels at the property line of nonparticipating land, and a two-mile turbine setback from livestock operations.
“I ask for your help and protection,” she told the zoning commission.
Many long-time residents feared wind energy developments could wreck life on their rural properties. As was the case for David Snodgrass, who said his farm has been in his family since the 1850s.
“We want to keep the land as pristine as it is at the present time,” he said.
Mary Jo Sloan, a 66-year resident of Clinton County, said her grandchildren are enthusiastic about her farm, and she is afraid that optimism could fade with nearby turbines.
“It is not safe and it will destroy our quality of life,” she said.
The parade of wind energy opponents Thursday included residents from DeKalb County, where NextEra Energy is currently building its 97-turbine Osborn Wind Energy Center. NextEra last applied to Clinton County for a similar project last winter prior to the moratorium, but the application was rejected by the zoning department for being incomplete.
At the conclusion of the information-gathering process, the zoning commission was expected to deliberate before deciding what, if any, amendments to propose, but that ended with Thursday’s decision to prohibit large-scale wind turbine projects throughout the county. The motion approved Thursday makes allowances for smaller wind conversion systems, which are restricted to a capacity of no more than 100 kilowatts and less than 120 feet in height.
The Clinton County Commissioners approved the zoning changes unanimously this past Tuesday. Clinton County Presiding Commissioner Wade Wilken, Jr. said after the meeting that a decision from the Supreme Court in Kansas upholding a similar ruling eased his worries about the ban.
“The people who were here felt it was momentous,” he said of Tuesday morning’s crowd. “It’s just a planning and zoning question, like every other one that comes across (our desk). It will protect us for the future, until a new generation comes along and maybe decides they do want (wind turbines).”
Second District Commissioner Larry King said he’s spent hours in conversation with residents and in attendance of meetings, both citizen gatherings and planning and zoning meetings, along with conducting his own research. He said his guiding goal was protecting the roads and residents of the county.
King said he’d also had previous contact with representatives of NextEra Energy.
“I probably have a tainted attitude toward them because of their bully attitude and when they say they want to be good neighbors, you know that’s not what they want,” he said after the meeting.
“I’ll be right honest about it; I don’t want our county, Clinton County, looking like DeKalb County,” he later added.
King went on to applaud the zoning commission, saying they were professional and qualified.
“If there is one thing to be proud of in Clinton County, it is Clinton County’s zoning board,” he said. “Our zoning board, too bad there weren’t 500 people at our meetings.”
NextEra Energy Resources spokesman Steve Stengel said Tuesday via email: “We are aware of the action taken today by the Clinton County Commissioners and are reviewing our options.”