The Logan County Planning and Zoning Commission may have had a moment of clarity Tuesday night after hours of sometimes heated discussion over wind turbines.
After hearing a constant barrage of complaints from Logan County residents in the Fleming area about NextEra Energy’s Niyol Wind Farm, the planning commission voted 4-2 to table conditional use permit applications for up to 82 wind turbines in the area west and south of Fleming. The commission did, however, approve a permit for a meteorological tower to measure wind in the area.
The opposition has come from a group calling themselves Concerned Citizens for a Safe Logan County and, while most of the concerns they have voiced are based on rumor and misunderstanding, the planning commission members detected a theme running through the arguments that may point to the real reason the project is so unpopular – population density.
After three hours of public comment and several minutes of commission members’ discussion, Commissioner Brett Locke wondered aloud why, if the wind turbines are so detrimental, the commission hasn’t heard objections from the Peetz area, where more than 200 of the giant windmills stretch for miles along the Peetz Table.
“I don’t know that (the Niyol project) is a whole lot different from the others we’ve done,” Locke said. “I’m not sure that this application is different from others we’ve approved previously.”
Chairman Dave Whitney suggested that there had been a lot of comments from owners of small holdings in the proposed wind farm area.
“It could be there’s more population, and small land owners in this area feel like they’re getting passed over for the economic benefit of others,” he said.
County planner Rob Quint confirmed that the area appears to be increasingly more exurban than agricultural – home sites consisting of a few acres subdivided from much larger farms and ranches.
“A lot of these are subdivisions for residential use,” Quint said. “We don’t see that as much up around Peetz. But a lot of people, especially since the prison opened, have moved into (the Fleming) area, for the open space and the schools.”
Based on comments from many of those residents, they don’t want that open space clogged with wind towers soaring hundreds of feet into the air on their neighbors’ properties. The citizens group has proposed a set of regulations governing new wind energy construction, and those regulations also were on Tuesday night’s agenda, but as a separate item. The planning commission allowed a presentation on the proposed regulations, which then affected the public hearing on the pending conditional use permits.
The commission members who voted to table the permit requests were vague about their reasons for tabling, saying they want to “take another look” at the applications. And that causes serious problems for NextEra.
Jennifer Herron, project manager for the Niyol project, said it would be unfair for Logan County to suddenly change the rules in the middle of the game.
“If we don’t know what the rules are, it makes it very hard to move forward with this project,” she said.
Herron argued that the commission should vote to approve or deny the applications based on the regulations that exist now, not on potential regulations that may exist later.
The board will take up the permit applications again at its May 19 meeting.
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