Some N’West Iowa officials consider a new proposal by the Iowa Utilities Board a power grab.
The utilities board is considering adopting new administrative rules regarding renewable electric power-generating facilities that some N’West Iowa counties fear would increase its eminent domain capabilities.
The Osceola County Board of Supervisors approved drafting a letter opposing the proposed rules, which the county feared would override its control in greenlighting construction and placement of wind turbines and other renewable power-generating facilities.
“I don’t think that the IUB rule should preempt local zoning,” said board chairman Ed Jones during a discussion of the rules on June 9. “This is a local issue. We’re the ones that have to live with these things. We should decide what the zoning and setbacks for them are.”
The utilities board filed the proposed rule on May 22, and a public comment period is open until Monday, June 22.
One of the proposed rule changes would modify how the Iowa Utilities Board defines a facility. New language would be added to include “any solar, wind or storage generating plants or combinations of plants that have a total generating capacity of 25 MW (megawatts) or more” in the definition.
The existing definition, according to Iowa Administrative Code Chapter 24, is “any electric power generating plant or combination of plants at a single site, owned by any person, with a maximum generator nameplate capacity of 25 megawatts of electricity or more and those associated transmission lines connecting the generating plant to either a power transmission system or an interconnected primary transmission system or both. This term includes any generation addition that increases the total maximum generator nameplate capacity at one site to 25 megawatts or more, but does not include those transmission lines beyond the generation station’s substation.”
Lyon County attorney Shayne Mayer explained to that county’s board of supervisors how the proposed rules could also impact the issuance of certificates during a special meeting Thursday afternoon.
Energy operations that generate 25 megawatts or more of energy need to receive a certificate of public convenience and use issued by the Iowa Utilities Board. Operations under that limit only need to receive approval from the county government.
“If I understand the way that they’re going to define these utilities, basically no one’s going to fall into the 25-megawatts-or-under category,” Mayer said.
She also explained the new rule would not require public meetings to be held in the county in advance of the energy company applying for the certificate of public convenience and use.
Instead, applicants would have to obtain a majority of the land rights needed for the facility to be built. A public comment meeting would be held in the county afterward.
Energy companies that obtain the certificate from the utilities board also are able to use eminent domain if needed to procure the land for their facility.
“In theory, if you were, under the old rules, under 25 megawatts, you wouldn’t have had to go through this process and you’d have to acquire all of your land privately,” Mayer said.
“You wouldn’t have been able to use the public utilities board’s eminent domain power because you didn’t qualify, frankly, weren’t big enough. Now it’s grouping all those people together so in theory, it’s giving more people more power of eminent domain, if I’d try to synthesize this.”
The use of eminent domain to construct wind-power facilities also was a concern Jones had regarding the proposed rules.
“I can’t see someone coming onto my farm or anyone else’s farm in the county saying, ‘Yeah, we’re going to stick this here and you’re going to let us do it,’” Jones said.
Don Tormey, director of communications for the Iowa Utilities Board, said the board already has the authority to grant eminent domain under Iowa Code Section 476A.7.
“If the power of eminent domain is requested by a renewable energy generating facility as part of or after filing an application for a certificate, the IUB will review that request and determine if eminent domain will or will not be granted,” Tormey said.
Dan Friedrichsen, an O’Brien County supervisor, also is not in favor of the proposed rule because of the potential shift in power from the county to the state.
O’Brien County is home to one of the largest wind farms in America.
Friedrichsen also noted O’Brien County’s existing ordinance governing wind energy devices and how the utilities board’s new rule may impact it.
“The ordinance was set up to not only protect property owners, but it also allowed wind farms to come in then based on those terms so they just couldn’t run amok, basically,” Friedrichsen said.
The O’Brien County supervisors will discuss the proposed rule change in greater detail at its meeting Monday, June 22, and decide whether or not they wish to file a letter with the Iowa Utilities Board. The board typically meets on Tuesdays, but changed its meeting to meet the comment deadline.
The Lyon County supervisors did not opt to submit a public comment, instead choosing to monitor progress of the proposed rules as the utilities board discusses them further. The supervisors pointed out how the county does not have any wind farms, only a few individual wind turbines.
The Sioux County Board of Supervisors has not discussed the proposed rules, according to county auditor Ryan Dokter. He said the county does not have any wind farms.
N’WEST IOWA WIND TURBINES:
N’West Iowa is home to hundreds of wind turbines, most of which are located in O’Brien and Osceola counties.
O’Brien County has two wind farms, each owned by MidAmerican Energy. The first farm has 214 turbines and is located throughout the southern and central portions of the county. The second farm has 104 turbines and is in the northern portion of the county between Hartley and Sanborn.
Combined, the turbines in O’Brien County are capable of producing about 752 megawatts of power.
Osceola County has 60 turbines spread out across the northeastern portion of the county. The turbines are part of two wind farms owned by Juno Beach, FL-based energy company, NextEra Energy Resources LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc.
The turbines in Osceola County are able to generate about 150 megawatts of power.
To file a comment to the Iowa Utilities Board regarding the proposed rule change for the construction and placement of wind turbines and other renewable power-generating facilities, visit efs.iowa.gov/efs.
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