Planned wind turbine project moves forward; Special use permits sought for Upland Wind Prairie Project approved
“I’ve found out about these windmills and I’m very nervous about the situation that it’s putting toward my family and my way of living. ... I don’t understand that they can come in and ruin my way of life. They’re telling me I’m going to have 45 decibels of noise, that’s like a refrigerator. If I have to sit there on a beautiful day and listen to a refrigerator all day that I cannot turn off, that worries me. I’m worried because I sleep right by a window,” David Lux, of Everly, said.
After narrowly getting a recommendation from the Clay County Zoning Commission, the application for special use permits sought by Apex Clean Energy for its planned wind turbine project, the Upland Wind Prairie Project, was brought before the Clay County Board of Adjustments Tuesday evening. The meeting was held in the same manner as the Zoning Commission’s, with Apex Clean Energy giving an introductory presentation, followed by community input and then possible rebuttal by Apex Clean Energy before receiving questions from the board.
“Upland Prairie is requesting special exception use permits for 73 wind turbines with 10 spares and two met towers and one substation. This is all on A1 agricultural property,” said Tammy McKeever, director of Clay County Zoning. “According to our zoning ordinance, we do allow for wind turbines in an A1 agricultural district as a special use permit.”
During Apex’s opening presentation, Brenna Gunderson, senior development manager at Apex, suggested that Apex’s efforts to properly cite turbines with their planned layout exceeded the county’s requirements.
“We’ve got over 19,000 acres signed to a lease, … of that the build-able area is down to about 3,300 acres, so just 17 percent of that area,” Gunderson said. “Through this project, it really does become very difficult to move turbines (from their planned positions), but we also think it’s unnecessary. Unnecessary simply because we have definitely gone over and above the county’s requirements. We are looking at more than just distance, we are looking at sound and shadow flicker. And, we really believe that this wind farm, the way it’s designed, is not going to create any problems for the community. In fact, we think that this will probably be one of if not the, quietest wind farms in Iowa.”
Adam Van Dike, a lawyer representing Apex, returned and spoke directly to the board, stating how he thought Apex met the county’s criteria for a special use permit. Van Dike also focused on setback distances, which was one of the concerns brought up multiple times during the meeting.
“We’re not asking for any type of variance (with the ordinance), or anything like that because we’ve met everything. … Your setback ordinance is 1,200 feet. The closest turbines we have in our project to a house is just under 1,300 feet, so we’re over and above, and that happens to be an owner that’s in our project. … The closest we are to a nonparticipating homeowner, someone who’s not in our project, is 1,360 feet, so we’re still well above the 1,200 feet. The closest we are to any town, and the town of Everly is in our project area, we’re 2,800 feet from Everly, so we’re pretty far away, we feel.”
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, speakers included participating landowners, nonparticipating land owners, Clay County residents, county supervisors from Franklin and Kossuth counties, and a resident of Dickinson County.
“I’ve found out about these windmills and I’m very nervous about the situation that it’s putting toward my family and my way of living. … I don’t understand that they can come in and ruin my way of life. They’re telling me I’m going to have 45 decibels of noise, that’s like a refrigerator. If I have to sit there on a beautiful day and listen to a refrigerator all day that I cannot turn off, that worries me. I’m worried because I sleep right by a window,” David Lux, of Everly, said. “The closest one is 1,800 feet right behind my house. I am asking for a half-a-mile setback for a nonparticipating land owner as myself. … I’m not complaining about the sight of view, I’m not complaining about those kind of things, I’m complaining about the noise that I’m going to listen to everyday, my family and kids are going to listen to every night. That’s what I’m worried about.”
“Wind energy is allowing another way (for farmers) to support their families on their land and will help us keep more of this land in agricultural production for the coming generation. … Our farmers are not greedy, as some here have tried to maintain. They’re enterprising businessmen who adopt and diversify. They are the reason this community is as productive as it is,” Tom LeClair, of Everly, said. “Upland Prairie Wind Project is a good project, and will bring millions of dollars to our community. It has been designed responsibly and meets our county ordinances.”
After the public hearing, board members then questioned representatives of Apex Clean Energy.
“Who is responsible for (decommissioning) and is the money held in escrow or bond, how much per turbine?” Larry Flaharty, Board of Adjustment member, asked.
“The decommissioning plan is not required by your ordinance, your ordinance does say we have to take them down if we stop using them, and it goes on to say if we don’t the county will take legal action against the owner,” Van Dike said.
“Keep in mind that the owner of the project is required to decommission the project, so we’re really not talking about relying on this form of security because Alliant Energy for one is going to be the owner and they are responsible for decommissioning the project,” Gunderson said.
“So, an increase in the setback – which we can’t even do, our obligation is to see if the county ordinance has been met, rather than change the ordinance. What impact would it have if that were increased?” asked David Simington, chairman of the Board of Adjustments.
“We have looked very closely at all of the setbacks. … We can look at specific numbers, but it would definitely have an impact for sure on the project,” Gunderson said. “I don’t know that the idea of just moving it a certain distance is a benefit.”
While some members of the board expressed an interest in seeing a larger setback for the turbines as opposed to the 1,200 feet currently in ordinance, Assistant County Attorney Barry Sackett explained that the board is unable to amend the Clay County ordinance.
“The Board of Adjustments asked me if they had the ability to amend the ordinance, Clay County ordinance currently lists three ways that the ordinance can be amended. One way is by recommendation of the zoning board, second way is by the board of supervisors themselves, taking up to amend the ordinance, a third way is by petition of 50 percent of the affected land owners petitioning the zoning board to recommend a change to the ordinance,” Sackett said. “Ultimately, it would be a vote of the board of supervisors to change the ordinance. The board of adjustments’ duty tonight is to determine if the 10 standards that are set out in the ordinance have been met in the application and then to pass up or down whether that special use exception should be issued.”
After deliberation, the board voted 5-0, with board members John Olson and Jim Christensen noting their reluctance during the vote, to approve the application for special use permits for the Upland Prairie Wind Project. With the approval of the permits, the Upland Prairie Wind Project is allowed to be constructed on designated A1 agricultural land in Clay County.
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