Public debate over the pros and cons of a proposed wind ordinance for Morgan County continued Monday, even as Morgan County commissioners began looking to finalize the county’s rules for wind farming.
Dusty Douglas, director of the regional planning commission, said the proposed ordinance addresses issues relating to the decommissioning process, setback increases and concerns with flicker and lighting.
“There’s been a lot of work trying to make this a strong document,” Douglas said.
Commissioners began revising the county’s existing ordinance after the county was approached about a wind farm project in southeastern Morgan County.
Apex Clean Energy is proposing to install between 80 and 120 turbines that would produce up to 300 megawatts of electricity.
Roughly 85% of comments received during the public comment period involved setbacks for the project, Douglas said.
The proposed ordinance increases setbacks for turbines from 1,000 feet from a home’s foundation to 1,320 feet for participating landowners and 1,500 feet for non-participating landowners.
“We have added in a second layer of protection,” Douglas said, noting that the proposed ordinance adds a second setback of 1.1 times the height of the turbine from the property line.
It also adds in a complaint process, Douglas said.
While the proposed ordinance has taken steps in the right direction, it still doesn’t provide adequate protection for non-participating property owners who would be in the footprint of the project, said Mike Woodyard, an administrator for the Facebook group Ad Hoc Citizens Committee for Property Rights.
The group believes the setbacks should be made from the property line, not the foundation of a non-participating home.
“Your rights end at the property line, not the foundation of my home,” Woodyard said.
The taller the turbines, the larger the setbacks need to be and they should not impose on a non-participating landowner’s use of their own land, he said.
Companies also need to negotiate good-neighbor agreements with non-participating landowners to have a turbine close to the property line, he said.
Woodyard also voiced concerns about flicker, which he said can be limited or even eliminated by using computer software that would map flicker’s impact and create a timetable that would turn off a turbine during times when it would cast flicker on a home.
“The flicker section needs to be revised for zero hours of flicker and require the developers to use this software to meet that,” Woodyard said.
He requested that the board also revise the variance section to limit the types of variances that developers can claim.
The new ordinance would move permit and appeal decisions from the Regional Planning Commission – a board of 12 elected and appointed officials – to a five-member board of appointed officials, which will limit the board’s accountability, Woodyard said.
“Those positions (on the Regional Planning Commission) could be held accountable, but this ordinance eliminates the Regional Planning Commission … ” Woodyard said.
The original ordinance established that wind projects would be overseen by a plans commission, a board of five members appointed by the Morgan County board chairman and separate from the Regional Planning Commission, board Chairman Brad Zeller said.
“These are two different boards,” Zeller said.
Others spoke for the project, claiming that the economic benefits and production of clean energy need to come to the county.
Craig Wood of Morgan County said electricity production via wind is renewable.
“The coal supply is limited,” he said. “We rely on oil and gas, but how long will those last? … We need to act now to develop clean and green energy. And wind is free.”
Others said the tax revenue a wind farm would generate for school districts and the county are needed.
Commissioners have not yet voted on the proposed ordinance, though that could come during the board’s next meeting if revisions for clarity and to the road-use agreement are completed in time, Zeller said.
“We don’t know if those changes will be completed by the next meeting,” he said.