A special use permit recommendation sought by Apex Clean Energy for its proposed wind farm, known as the Upland Prairie Wind Project, during a Clay County Zoning commission meeting ended in dramatic fashion by deadlocking before seeing a second motion for recommending the project, which narrowly passed at a vote of 4-2. wApex Clean Energy opened the meeting by explaining the project and how it meets Clay County ordinance for special use permits.
“The project is located within Clay and Dickinson counties. It is 300 megawatts, 183 megawatts of those would be in Clay County, there would be 120 turbines in this project, 73 of them will be in Clay County,” said Holly McCoy-Nelson, development manager at Apex Clean Energy. “The anticipated date of commercial operation is 2018. The proposed tax revenue would be $30 million in Clay County, there would be approximately $40 million in landowner payments in Clay and Dickinson counties, 250 full-time jobs during the construction period and around 15 to 20 jobs full time, operations and maintenance once operations have begun.”
McCoy-Nelson continued, “Upland Prairie Wind is expected to be located across five townships across northern Clay (County). Waterford, Summit and Lone Tree townships, and southern Dickinson County’s Westport and Okoboji. Once constructed it will generate enough to power more than 102,000 average U.S. homes for the next 30 years. The turbines used in this project will have a ground to blade tip height of approximately 490 feet when the turbine is in the 12 o’clock position,” McCoy-Nelson said. “Alliant Energy has acquired rights to Upland Prairie Wind and Alliant is on track to take over construction and eventual operations of the … wind farm after Apex completes it’s development phase. This transition is expected to take place in the fall of 2017.”
Adam Van Dike, a lawyer representing Apex Clean Energy, also spoke to the commission, explaining how the project met Clay County’s ordinance for special use permits.
“The special use condition or conditional use section of your ordinance – whether it’s for wind turbines or for any other special use – has to meet certain criteria,” Van Dike said. “We felt we’ve met every criteria set forth in the ordinance, … and we feel that in that case … we should be able to move forward with the project, we would ask for a favorable recommendation from the board.”
Van Dike proceeded to go through each criteria of the Clay County ordinance, providing input on how Apex meets the criteria.
“Is it an appropriate piece of land that contributes to the community? In Iowa, typically you’ll see wind turbines in ag districts. I’m not aware – I’m sure there’s other turbines in other districts – but normally you’ll see these in ag districts, so this is the appropriate setting,” Van Dike said. “It’s the same as everywhere else in the state. Really, the turbine itself removes only a small footprint of the owner’s property from ag production, it really does not affect the farmland or surrounding it, and it also contributes to the local economy.”
He continued further, addressing the criteria regarding an impact on surrounding land use.
“The uses of the surrounding landowners should not change. If they’re farming their property they’ll continue to farm their property, these turbines will not affect that,” Van Dike said.
Apex also held a public conference call during the meeting with Christopher Ollson, Ph.D, of Ollson Environmental Health Management, and Dave Phillips, director of wildlife and environmental permitting at Apex, to present their professional input regarding health and environmental concerns for the planned wind farm in a similar presentation to one given to Clay County supervisors in May.
After Apex’s opening presentation, members of the public were allowed to address the commission during the public hearing portion of the meeting. Those who spoke included property owners taking part in the project, surrounding property owners, concerned citizens and various other Clay County residents.
“We have generations of farmers in our community. We all know the challenge of agriculture, considering weather, markets and production. For some farmers it’s becoming a financial burden to bring children into the operation. Now wind energy is offering these families an additional way to help support future generations of farmers,” Clay County resident Dick Kirksey said. “As a private property rights supporter, I’m offended that some people, many of them who live over 20 miles away, would try to take away my property rights because they believe their pristine agricultural vistas are more important. If we allow these folks to stop their neighbors from using their land for wind turbines, which we have heard are perfectly safe, clean and low impact, where will it stop?”
“Earlier was mentioned about the good neighbor policy. The reason we’re here is because the good neighbor policy was not followed by those farmers who followed, who signed a wind contract. Did they contact their neighbor and say ‘Would this be alright with you?’ That was never done. So, it boils down to rights. You have a right to erect a wind turbine, I have a right to erect a wind turbine, but I also have the right to not have my property damaged by a wind turbine setting right next to it,” Clay County resident Jerry Crew said. “There are two indisputable facts that even the wind industry cannot argue with. Elimination of government subsidies would mean zero wind turbines erected. And the second indisputable is, … the amount of fossil fuels spent for construction, erection, maintenance (etc.), there’s no possible way they’ll ever recover the amount of fossil fuels spent for that.”
“I don’t want people to lose the enjoyment of their property, their homes from the effects of these turbines. … To me, they’re a nuisance and shouldn’t be allowed that close to people’s homes. Wind turbine companies, I’ve asked them ‘What’s in their safety manuals? How far do their workers have to stay away from them for safety reasons?’ and they won’t give me an answer,” Clay County resident Alice Roghair said. “I wonder if the setback distances that we have in our ordinances, they need to be looked at and maybe increased because they were put in a number of years ago. Are the turbines now bigger than they were then? Because their shadow flicker can go up to a mile away.”
“I’ve worked on a wind farm for five years. I think it’s a great project, I think the county and the school districts can all use the revenue that will be brought into the county from the (wind farm), plus jobs. With the jobs that are leaving Clay County, we need all we can get,“ said Roger Putnam, mayor of Everly.
After hearing from the public, commission members directed their own questions to Apex representatives.
“Where do all these millions of dollars come from?” commission member Marilyn White, asked.
“So there’s a tax that we pay on each of these turbines, the owner and operator pays on the turbines. It ramps up over seven years and is taxed about 30 percent of the total value of the turbine, and so that is what the tax dollars that we are referencing, that’s where that comes from,” McCoy-Nelson said.
“What’s the estimated life for the towers?” Sharon McKeever, another commission member, asked.
“Their life is about 25 years, at that point they will decide whether or not they want to decommission them. We do have a decommissioning agreement with the county, they’ll decide whether or not they completely want to remove them or are going to retro fit them, like the turbines in Ventura, Iowa,” McCoy-Nelson said.
“Is there money in escrow if the company would go under and no one wants to buy it out, or wants to buy it out for 10 cents on the dollar?” David Wyatt, a fellow commission member, questioned.
“Yes, that is in the decommissioning agreement with the county. There is a form of security,” McCoy-Nelson said.
Following the public and corporate input, the board deliberated the special use permits to the Clay County Board of Adjustments. The first motion on the floor was to deny or not recommend the permits, which was deadlocked 3-3 by the board with Clay County Zoning Commission Chairman Keith Kruse abstaining. A second motion was then made to recommend the special use permits to the board of adjustments passing with a vote of 4-2. Kruse again abstained, and board members Marilyn White and Rita Smith cast the dissenting votes. The recommendation will be sent to the Clay County Board of Adjustments which will host its meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 22 in the meeting room in the Clay County Administration building.
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