May 4, 2020

Dakota County considering moratorium on wind farms

Nick Hytrek | Sioux City Journal |

DAKOTA CITY – Wind energy developers have not approached Dakota County in the past about building wind farms there, county leaders say.

The Dakota County Board of Commissioners on Monday will consider a resolution that would keep wind farms out of the county for the foreseeable future.

On the agenda for the board’s meeting is a moratorium that would prohibit “… all applications, installations and projects involving wind energy systems until such time that the Board has amended regulations in place to ensure the protection of the public health, safety and welfare …” of Dakota County citizens.

The board meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the Dakota County Courthouse. It is not available to view or hear via video streaming or teleconference.

The subject of a moratorium arose earlier this year as the county amended its zoning ordinances pertaining to wind energy systems, board chairman Martin Hohenstein said.

“The board has been doing a little homework on wind energy,” Hohenstein said. “We’re gathering information to see if it’s the right decision for Dakota County at this time.”

Commissioners approved the amended zoning regulations April 6. The proposed moratorium’s language indicates that the board “deemed it necessary to impose a moratorium” after considering public information provided during public hearings on the zoning amendments.

Joe O’Neill, administrator of the Dakota County Joint Planning Commission, said the previous regulations had become outdated, and county planners wanted new rules to address the increasing size of wind turbines and other changes in the industry. He said the new regulations, developed after studying other counties’ zoning laws, would enable wind energy development in Dakota County without applying crippling restrictions.

“We didn’t want to totally shut them out,” O’Neill said.

A moratorium, however, would shut them out.

Josh Moenning, director of New Power Nebraska, a renewable energy development organization that promotes and develops wind energy projects, said he hadn’t heard about Dakota County’s proposed moratorium. If passed, it would cost the county the increased property tax revenue, job opportunities and economic growth he said a wind energy project can bring to an area.

“It would be unfortunate if Dakota County would slam the door shut on opportunities for their own residents,” Moenning said.

Moenning said he was aware of only one Nebraska county in the past three years that has adopted a wind farm moratorium, though others have pushed for zoning rules that would have made wind farm development impossible. After Stanton County passed its moratorium, Moenning said, wind energy developers took their plans to neighboring counties instead.

Dakota County’s neighbors already are on board with wind energy. The $430 million, 101-turbine Rattlesnake Creek wind farm in Dixon County began operations in late 2018.

“It does surprise me that Dakota County is considering (a moratorium), given that South Sioux City has been very aggressive in adopting the use of renewable energy,” Moenning said.

Lance Hedquist, city manager of South Sioux City, the county’s largest city, said one-third of the municipality’s electricity is bought from wind energy sources and is cheaper than solar, coal or oil energy. He wondered why a moratorium was requested.

“We are concerned with the proposed moratorium,” Hedquist said in a message emailed Friday after the board of commissioners’ meeting agenda was released.

Dakota City resident Marci Broyhill favors the moratorium, saying that people are led to believe wind energy will save the planet, but they don’t know the whole story about what she calls “industrial wind.”

Broyhill referred to a number of books, studies and documentaries she said show the wind energy industry isn’t as promising as supporters say. Broyhill talked about deceptive negotiating tactics when companies seek access to landowners’ property. She also doesn’t consider wind farms too environmentally friendly, given the tons of concrete and steel required for their construction and the fossil fuels burned by trucks to transport and build the turbines.

“There’s just a lot of unanswered questions that industrial wind ignores,” Broyhill said. “If you weigh the facts, you will find that it is better to be without industrial wind.”

Hohenstein said county commissioners have spoken with other counties that have considered moratoriums or passed other restrictions. He said Dakota County leaders are not opposed to the wind energy industry.

“There’s no particular board member that’s against wind energy,” he said.

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