The Lincoln County commissioners have set at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 10 for a public hearing regarding a proposed amendment to the county’s zoning regulations for wind turbine projects.
During Monday’s meeting, a motion to acknowledge receipt of the proposed changes was passed and County Planning Administrator Judy Clark was on hand to answer questions from the board concerning the changes. The changes were in language for financial assurance, discontinuing and decommission plans for wind turbines and liability insurance within a proposal.
“One of the main items in this amendment that was changed was the portion on decommissioning,” Clark said. “That was one of the sections the planning commission felt – we had some decommissioning regulations in there – they were a little bit too weak. They wanted some pretty strong decommissioning regulations in there.”
Clark said on Jan. 21, after a public hearing, the Lincoln County Planning Commission passed the resolution giving written recommendation. She said the process began in October 2019 with the planning commission and deputy attorneys Joe Wright and Steven King researching wind regulations from a number of zoning jurisdictions in and outside of Nebraska.
Before voting, Commissioner Kent Weems questioned both county attorneys about language in the proposed regulations that would require a company proposing a wind project to ensure it has the funds to decommission turbines in the future.
“The 125% fee that was factored in – how did we arrive at 125%?” he asked.
Deputy county attorney Steve King said a company proposing a wind project will need to determine the cost for removal, or decommissioning.
“They are supposed to get a professional estimate and as part of that estimate, they take into account what they think they’ll be able to salvage the materials for,” King said.
“So that’s not factoring in the physical labor part?” Weems asked.
King said that was including the physical labor.
“So what I’m leading to is, if the wind turbine lasts for 10 years in your jurisdiction, and you’ve got 125% provision there for decomission, extrapolating numbers from today, how do we know in 10 years that 125% is going to be sufficient and bond it accordingly?” Weems said.
“(The company) is supposed to hire someone who does this all the time,” King said. “So they’re supposed to take into consideration all sorts of economics and equations, including inflation.”
“So your assumption is or you know specifically they do include inflationary value?” Weems said.
King answered the estimate includes inflationary value.
The proposed amended language reads: “An estimate of the decommissioning costs certified by a professional engineer, to be updated every three years or as determined by the county Planning and Zoning Administrator, which update shall include an analysis of the salvage value of the improvements.”
“It was written in such a way that when a conditional use is requested with the planning commission, they have a lot of discretion in looking at the presentation,” Wright said. “They can say to (the company), ‘Well, you need to do this or do that to assure safety of the decommissioning.’”
Wright told the commission he wants them to be forward-thinking when looking at proposals.
“I told the planning commission to make sure you have a plan, so that 20 years from now there’s money there set aside that you can grab that money, should they go bankrupt,” Wright said, “that there’s money set aside in escrow separate.”
A company that approaches the county about project, Wright said, needs to assure the planning commission that there’s money there for decommissioning.
“I also read in the text that we have the option, or the planning commission has the option to either ask for a cash reserve or a bond,” Weems said.
With these regulations, Wright said, the planning commission has options.
“They basically have full discretion to say to (the company), we want something that will assure us that three years from now there’s money,” Wright said. “So the planning commission has discretion to say, ‘We don’t like this plan, it doesn’t protect us well enough, you need to do X, Y, Z.’”
The amendment was drafted so there is some financial assurance, Wright said.
“One thing I would like to add to the conversation while we’re here is, I’m concerned about the roads and the shape they’re in after they get done decommissioning,” said Commissioner Bill Henry. “Is that a part of the picture here? Is that part of the decommissioning, putting the roads back in shape?”
Clark said the companies are supposed to leave everything in as good as or better condition when they leave as it was previously.
“The decommissioning has more to do with the actual structures they’re decommissioning, the wind towers,” Clark said.
Wright said the company taking care of the roads is something the planning commission can bring up when there is a decommissioning.
“The planning commission is very good at making sure that those roads (are taken care of, when they do conditional use permits,” Clark said. “They’ve always been concerned with it.”
At the public hearing held by the planning commission, there were two gentlemen who spoke to the amendments.
“Nobody was upset,” Clark said. “Everybody thought we did a decent job and were pretty happy with it.”
“Sen. Tom Hansen spoke and he read it and thought it was very well written,” Wright added.
The commissioners also discussed improving the evaluation process for all appointed department heads. Weems, who initiated the conversation at a previous meeting, brought several ideas to the table.
“If we are not doing a critical evaluation of the department heads, then let’s not do it at all,” Weems said.
He suggested more data and documentation of what is being done would help the commissioners when it comes to discussing the work of each of the department heads.
Weems was given the go-ahead to draft his ideas into form and to report to the board in two weeks at the Feb. 10 meeting.
Other agenda items included:
» The commissioners approved the procedure to stake out the right-of-way line regarding the South River Road project, which will be surveyed by the county.
» The commissioners asked Carla O’Dell to bring to the board specifics regarding the sale of surplus property, four 1990s pickups and one 1966 CVT motor-grader with Roanoke Mower.
» Approved a memorandum of understanding for the county acting as fiscal agent for Nebraska Hazardous Meaterials Governing Group.
» Approved the purchase of a copier for the Veterans Service Officer.
» Brandon Myers, Emergency Management Director, gave his quarterly report.
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