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Guest Opinion: Make wind development work for everyone  

Credit:  By Dr. Tony Gerk, Guest columnist | Sterling Journal-Advocate | May 27, 2020 | www.journal-advocate.com ~~

We were very disappointed that the Logan County Planning Commission chose to forcibly mute all citizens during the May 19 “public” hearing on wind energy development while only allowing a single person to frequently speak all night: the Niyol Wind Project representative. In fact, the Niyol representative was a designated moderator for the Zoom meeting while citizens of the county could only quietly watch the Commission make decisions with one-sided information. Why are public officials hearing out corporate, out-of-state interests while silencing their own citizens? The County Commissioners will consider final approval for the Niyol Wind Project on June 2nd. It is time for everyone to advocate for proactive, wise decision making by our local officials if we are to pursue smart wind development that works for everyone.

On March 26, 2020, our group, Concerned Citizens for a Safe Logan County, Inc., submitted a proposal for countywide zoning guidelines to direct wind development. On April 1, Niyol submitted their permit request to the county. In Niyol’s proposal, local residents saw proposed turbine locations for the first time and began to absorb how the project would impact their families and their quality of life. Many landowners learned these 500 foot structures are to be built less than 1500 feet from their home. We could also see the profound difference in this project compared to the other wind projects currently in operation in Logan County. The Peetz Table Wind Energy Center comprises an area of approximately 166 square miles in the sparsely populated northern edge of our county. Despite containing 300 turbines, only 10 houses are situated within a mile of a turbine. Contrast that with the area NextEra chose for their new project. If built as proposed, Niyol will encompass approximately 74 square miles and contain between 80 and 90 turbines one-and-a-half times taller than those in Peetz. Eighty-three homes lie within one mile of a proposed turbine according to Niyol’s proposal. Niyol is completely different from Peetz and the impacted residents are understandably upset. In addition, we do not know the extent of homeowner impact within the Peetz project footprint because wind leases frequently include confidentially clauses that prohibit landowners from expressing their concerns.

When Niyol formally presented its permit during the Zoom meeting on April 21, the Planning Commission heard firsthand the frustration many residents have with Niyol’s largely secretive process. Despite obtaining land contracts for the project since at least 2014, no public outreach was conducted until late 2019. As a result of this frustration, the public comments regarding the project lasted over two hours, so when our zoning proposals were officially brought before the board, it was after 10:00 pm. Respectful of the Board’s time and confident that we would have time to adequately defend our proposal in the future, we did not dive deeply into the rationale for the guidelines. Accordingly, many citizens and members of our group prepared extensively to explain the basis for our proposal and we were ready for an in-depth conversation with the Commission during the May 19th meeting. However, the Commission apparently wasn’t interested in case studies showing the rationale for our proposal or the concerns of the citizens it is supposed to serve. Despite fumbling through the details of our proposal and expressing an inability to remember the concerns we had raised during the previous meeting, not one Logan County resident was asked for feedback or clarification during the meeting. It was incredibly demoralizing to hear months of work being reduced to confused conversation as we watched and listened helplessly.

Board members acknowledged the County’s lack of regulations is intended to attract business to Logan County, but evidence shows that regulations do not dissuade wind developers. For example:

1. Oklahoma prohibits turbines within 1.5 miles from any public school or hospital, yet there are more than 4,000 turbines there and counting.

2. Wyoming prohibits turbines within 5.5 times their height from a residence, or ½-mile from city limits, but there are more than 1,000 turbines in the state, and at least another 2,000 proposed for construction.

3. Kit Carson County, CO has extensive wind regulations, but there are 5 large wind projects there and is a leading example for our state behind which Logan County is lagging.

4. Finally, Gage County, NE has a 3/8-mile setback, but NextEra itself (Niyol’s parent company) is still pursuing a 50-turbine wind project there.

Board members tossed around the idea of a setback equal to five times the height of the turbine from ground to hub (excluding blades), but would not commit to setback conditions for the Niyol project. We will continue to vehemently advocate for substantial setbacks from non-participating homes and property lines. These setbacks must be applied to Niyol and all future wind projects. We do not advocate for these setbacks as a way to regulate wind out of Logan County, rather we believe they are one of the most effective ways to compel these companies to adequately engage highly impacted residents. Any of our proposed protections could be waived by the landowner, so these projects could still proceed if the companies offered fair and adequate compensation to those highly affected residents. It would bring these contract negotiations out of the shadows, force community and industry collaboration and result in a project that works for everyone. On May 19th, the Planning Commission’s actions showed that collaboration, protection and transparency are not values they choose to uphold when wind development is involved.

Setbacks are the most effective way to address the negative impacts of wind turbines. Those living near wind projects sited without reasonable zoning guidelines are subject to shadow flicker, noise pollution, reduced property values and significant safety concerns. One turbine in the Niyol array is sited 1500 feet from a current school bus stop. Ice throw from turbine blades in the winter has been known to travel up to 1700 feet and nearby lightning can pose a threat to those within one kilometer (3280 feet) of the structures. If we can’t trust the wind companies to site their turbines a safe distance from our citizens, we need county officials to ensure the safety of the families that call this area home. The Commission should also reconsider its position that noise regulations are too complicated and unnecessary. There are Colorado state-wide laws regulating noise, after which the Group’s proposal is modeled that have been effective for decades. Noise regulation is necessary despite many likening the noise level from turbines to a face-to-face conversation. Can you imagine your neighbor constantly talking right outside your window all day and all night? Although that noise is acceptable when engaging in a conversation, it’s far from tolerable when it’s a constant background noise saturating your property. Don’t compare apples and oranges and claim something simple is too complicated when the peace of citizens’ homes are at stake.

The Commission thought regulation is unnecessary because private agreements sufficiently address issues. This is simply not the case due to unequal bargaining power. Wind companies frequently force landowners choose between competitive rent or protections for their property. If the County steps in, landowners won’t need to risk lower income when they ask for provisions like noxious weed mitigation. For example, look at the State’s wind lease in Niyol’s permit application (p.92) versus the citizens’ leases. You will see the private landowners didn’t get terms like turbine removal deposits while the state did. Should wind companies be able to steamroll private landowners with threats to reduce rental income while parties with more leverage like the state get contract terms that everyone deserves?

If the regulations are not enacted before approval of the Niyol project, conditions similar to our Group’s proposal should be imposed as conditions in Niyol’s permit. Otherwise, it will be too late for communities like Fleming which will experience issues like Adair County, IA. There, rapid construction of more than 500 turbines caused county residents to wonder why a 2,000-foot setback was imposed only after the fact without any practical benefit to their devalued homes and communities. Now, those residents are seeking a moratorium on further development instead of reasonable, proactive regulations. Osceola County, Iowa, finds itself in a similar situation after NextEra repowered turbines with newer, longer blades and promised to mitigate noise and shadow effects. The deadline for these improvements has passed and the company has yet to make good on its word. Don’t let Logan County become a place inhospitable for everyone – urge the County to act now, to encourage collaboration and community, before it’s too late. We can permit future wind development, but we need to do it together.

Please visit our group’s website to read the Niyol permit application, review our zoning guideline proposal and to sign our petition to local officials: www.necowindtest.com

We encourage everyone to contact the Zoning Department and the Logan County Commissioners to voice support for wind development guidelines that encourage collaboration rather than division. Their contact information can be found at logancounty.colorado.gov

Tony Gerk is a family physician in Sterling, a resident of Fleming and a founding member of Concerned Citizen for a Safe Logan County, Inc.

Source:  By Dr. Tony Gerk, Guest columnist | Sterling Journal-Advocate | May 27, 2020 | www.journal-advocate.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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