A company hoping to develop a wind farm in the southern portion of the county faced daunting challenges at Tuesday’s county commission meeting when a standing-room-only crowd turned out to speak in opposition to the proposed project – at least right now.
National Renewable Solutions, based in Wayzata, Minnesota, purchased the former Windborne Energy project – originally the brainchild of Florence resident Rex Savage. Under Savage’s hand, the idea notched forward but didn’t reach construction stage. NRS bought the project in July 2018.
Opponents filled available chairs in the meeting room and extra chairs were brought in. Despite that, people stood in both doorways of the commission chamber and around the commissioners’ table.
Commission chairman Kent Becker asked if the group had a spokesman. They did not, and several people spoke, each looking at the matter from a unique angle.
One man asked about the project’s stage of development, and Becker said the company has not yet applied for a conditional use permit from planning and zoning.
Another speaker said a wind farm’s property tax-free status would create hardship for county taxpayers.
“I would encourage there to be a moratorium on the number of permits,” she said.
She also said she’d been talking to state offices and learned a wind energy bill is being discussed in the House of Representatives and could be acted upon by the legislature.
House Bill 2273 would establish minimum setback distances of 7,930 feet from residential property or public buildings; 15,840 feet from an airport, wildlife refuge, public hunting area, or public park; and not less than 1,500 feet from a property line of real property that is within a setback distance.
“I’m really asking that you do your due diligence,” she said.
One speaker complained that wind turbines are loud.
“A lot of people present are in the Diamond Vista wind farm footprint or west of it where future expansion could happen,” he said.
He voiced support for postponing an agreement with NRS until any changes for planning and zoning consideration are finalized, which he said is only fair to the company.
A landowner in the area being considered for the NRS wind farm even though he didn’t sign up for a turbine on his property said his property would be affected.
“It’s just not really fair to those of us who live in the area and don’t sign up for it that they’re going to have to somehow come across our land,” he said.
He also asked that nonparticipating landowners have “some kind of resource” against problems that arise from the project.
Speakers also voiced concerns about potential health concerns from the voltage, spoiling the view of the county, deaths of birds that fly into the turbines such as happens at other locations in the country, and who removes defunct turbine equipment if the company goes out of business.
A farmer pointed out that some crop dusting services add a surcharge because of the difficulty of navigating around the towers.
Rural Peabody resident Larry Larsen, a longtime air ambulance service employee, said the towers can also interfere with landing helicopters.
Commissioner Dianne Novak said the county is already having issues with emergency radio signals in parts of the county and that a consultant recommended the line of sight for emergency radio transmission towers remain unobstructed.
Jesse Hopkins-Hoel, vice president of development for NRS, reminded people at the meeting that Expedition Wind Farm is a private project. Although all agreements are not yet sealed, they will be private agreements with the landowners, Hopkins-Hoel said.
He also encouraged anyone with concerns to contact him for discussion.
“I’m here and available,” he said. “I very much want to hear your concerns.”
Commissioner Randy Dallke asked how many people in the audience turned out for planning and zoning meetings that discussed wind farms.
“There was not a person come to those meetings,” Dallke said.
Dallke admitted he himself did not attend those meetings.
“We as a commission have until the 28th to have our planning and zoning commission discuss this,” Dallke said, adding that he wants everyone to be heard.
Dallke thanked everyone who has called him, and everyone who spoke at the meeting, for being respectful.
Novak said she believes the commission owes it to county residents to put a moratorium on wind farm development at the present time.
Hopkins-Hoel asked that commissioners hear from the 60 landowners who have already signed agreements before a moratorium is imposed.
In other matters, commissioners:
Heard routine annual reports from Marion County Resource Center and Food Bank and Families and Children Together.
Approved payment of the first construction bill for work at the transfer station project.
Learned that it is not yet known what will have to be done to remediate soil contamination at the transfer station site.
Discussed fines imposed on Diamond Vista Wind Farm for contractors driving on roads not included in the agreed haul routes and decided by consensus to have discussion with Enel Energy, the company that owns the project.
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