CLEAR LAKE – With the Deuel County Commission set to decide on revisions to its wind turbine ordinance, proponents and opponents of wind farm developments appeared before the commission Tuesday in Clear Lake to present their arguments.
Tuesday’s meeting came nearly a month after the county Planning and Zoning Board made a series of ordinance revisions on a 3-2 vote by the commission to increase wind tower setbacks from 1,000 to 1,500 feet from non-participating land, lower the maximum decibel level from individual towers to 45 for non-participants, and require flicker effects – which occur when the sun’s glare bounces off a wind turbine, casting an intermittent shadow – exceed no more than 30 hours a year.
The proposed ordinance revisions were born in part out of a failed proposal last fall by Flying Cow Wind, LLC. – a subsidiary of Renewable Energy Systems – to put up 14 wind turbines near Lake Cochrane in eastern Deuel County. That proposal drew significant opposition from many lake and county residents and was ultimately rejected by a 3-2 vote by the board last October.
With the backdrop of a divisive atmosphere between participants and non-participants who filled the Clear Lake Community Center, Commission Chairman Gary Jaeger told the Public Opinion Wednesday that the meeting along with the presentations proceeded in an orderly fashion.
“I thought it was courteous and respectful. It never got out of hand or anything like that,” Jaeger said.
Four opponents of wind turbines, including former Zoning and Planning Board member and Gary-area resident George Holborn, testified about the purported negative health effects wind turbines may cause. Primarily citing research by physicist Neal Kelley conducted over the decades, Holborn expressed his concerns about the negative effects wind turbines allegedly have, including turbine vibrations and flicker effects causing nausea and disorientation, among other physiological effects.
Holborn said there have been instances where non-participating residents who live near wind turbines felt the need to go in their basements away from windows to get relief. Holborn himself cited an instance where he had to pull off to the side of a highway while driving one day near turbines due to experiencing disorientation.
“It just strikes me (as wrong) that somebody has to live in their basement because they can’t afford to move,” Holborn said.
Holborn’s research and experience contributed to his “No” vote last month to the proposed ordinance revisions he considered too friendly to wind energy developers. Due to differences with his fellow board members, Holborn subsequently resigned his position effective Jan. 31.
“It’s just wrong. I just can’t bring myself to vote for something in that position,” Holborn said.
On the other hand, the Chicago-based wind energy firm, Invenergy, believes the proposed ordinance revisions may be too strict.
According to Senior Manager of Project Development Dan Litchfield, who was the only wind energy proponent to testify at Tuesday’s meeting, the firm is looking to build wind turbines primarily in northeastern Deuel County farther away from non-participating residents.
Litchfield told the Public Opinion Wednesday night the proposed project would go beyond the proposed 1,500-foot setback – although he didn’t provide a specific distance – and meet the 50-decibel limit specified by the current ordinance. Litchfield said that the firm could also meet the 30-hour annual limit on flicker effects, but that could be tight.
Overall, Litchfield maintained the proposed ordinance revisions could be challenging for the firm.
“The other proposed changes collectively represent a big deviation from the rulebook and the playing field that we set out upon,” Litchfield said. “It’s kind of a matter of increasing regulation, increasing red tape and pulling the rug out. Collectively, the proposed rules could really challenge the viability of the project… Our landowners (who agreed to have turbines placed on their land) are telling us, ‘This is a terrible precedent. We’re really concerned about this.’”
However, with the high elevation and the strong and frequent winds of Deuel County, along with the under construction CapX2020 wind transmission line expected to be completed later this year, Litchfield said that Invenergy will continue to go forward for now with its planning.
Another meeting on the topic is scheduled for the Feb. 21 Deuel County Commission meeting at 1:30 p.m. at the Clear Lake Community Center.
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