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Change of heart: one-year moratorium for proposed new wind turbine projects

Rather than a two-year, or a 28-month cooling off period, which county officials would give themselves to come up with a formal policy on wind turbines, the three-member Madison County Board of Supervisors opted to shorten a moratorium to just one year.

Officials had been planning to impose a moratorium with a deadline, or sunset, of Jan. 1, 2022.

All three agreed, after nearly two hours of comments from a public hearing Tuesday, that perhaps two years and four months was a bit too long.

But officials still sparred on how long was long enough.

A moratorium would be imposed on any new applications for proposed wind turbine or solar energy projects, the moratorium, however, does not affect the proposed MidAmerican Arbor Hills project for the northwest realm of the county near Earlham.

County supervisor Phil Clifton, who announced that he has terminated his easement with MidAmerican Energy to place a wind turbine on property he owns, suggested a four- to six-month moratorium. Supervisor Diane Fitch indicated she could be cajoled into a moratorium of perhaps 18 months, while Chairman Aaron Price said he would like to see more than six months, but not 18 months or two years.

In the end, officials agreed to impose a moratorium until Oct. 1, 2020. The vote was 2-1, for the shorter moratorium, with Clifton voting against, because he wanted a shorter time frame.

Officials passed on first reading the language establishing a moratorium. An ordinance takes three readings, and will have to be approved twice more.

The action came after officials heard from more than two dozen people who wanted to speak.

Comments came from a former state lawmaker, David Osterberg of Mount Vernon, who now works with an Iowa City-area study group, a Des Moines area lawyer, two county officials from Adair County – one a former county supervisor – and a number of people from around the state who felt compelled to comment.

In total, there were about 15 out-of-county residents who spoke, and nearly a dozen residents of Madison County, some from Winterset and several from northwest Madison County.

The public hearing began with Clifton reading a prepared statement announcing that he had dissolved his agreement with MidAmerican Energy, which would allow him to collect fees under a good neighbor agreement.

Osterberg, a professor emeritus from the college of public health, said his group has studied wind turbines and says his group has come up with no evidence that noises from turbines cause health issues.

“There is no authoritative evidence that sounds pose a threat to public health issue,” he said.

“There was evidence of annoyance” he added. “There is no health risk other than annoyance.”

He said that effects tend to be psychological or physiological in nature; when technology – that people may or may not understand – is involved and moves into an area, people become predisposed to take on health risks.

Symptoms, although real, may or may not come from wind turbines.

“We could not find any evidence beyond annoyance.”

Alan Lange of Winterset agreed with imposing a moratorium.

“It is time to take a step back … it is a changing landscape with clean energy.”

Lange said each time a turbine is built, it takes a “small footprint” of land out of production.

“Let’s see what the next couple of years bring.”

Des Moines attorney Tom Reavely with the Whitefield Eddy law firm, says he has represented a number of people from Madison County on the wind turbine issue. He also represents the Madison County Coalition for Scenic Preservation.

“The side effects of the turbine project were not necessarily put forward,” he stated.

He also indicated he had “clients” in Ida County that would give an earful on what they consider to be adverse health effects of wind turbines.

He, too, indicated a cooling off period is appropriate.

“It’s only a moratorium, it’s a step back,” Reavely said.

Many of those who spoke indicated they favored some type of moratorium.

Several of the out-of-county speakers were from neighboring Adair County, and even Guthrie County.

They urged county officials to take plenty of time and research the subject before they proposed a policy.

One point is clear: while many are in favor of turbines, there are many opposed. There are also those that don’t seem to care. But between those either pro or con, the issue can cause tension.

“We can always see them,” said an Adair County individual who lives near Orient.

“I have neighbors. I don’t see them any more. I don’t talk with them any more.”

Judy Neal of rural Earlham agreed that the issue is tearing apart friendships.

“It seems to be breaking up some of the neighbors.”

“Do the due diligence and get a protective ordinance,” urged Mary Jobst, a Penn Township resident.

“Your decision to enact a moratorium is the right thing to do,” she added.

Kevin Smith, a California resident, wants to construct a solar project using about 300 acres of farmland, and install a 50 megawatt solar panel project.

He says about 70 percent of the land used would be for solar panels.

He’s looking to get started on the project in the next several years.

“My recommendation … you consider a short moratorium.”