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City Hall: Lancaster County seeks to relax rules for wind turbines

Lancaster County commissioners want to ease the restrictions they adopted just last year governing wind turbines in a move they see as recalibrating rules that have proven prohibitive.

“It has become apparent the (county’s rules) failed to strike an appropriate balance that would allow a viable path toward wind energy development,” the five commissioners wrote in a joint letter to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department.

The county hasn’t issued any permits under the rules since their adoption, the board said.

Initially in 2019, the County Board voted to enact the most restrictive setback requirements for wind farms in Nebraska, then eased them slightly, from 1 mile from a nonparticipating property owner’s home to 5 times the height of the windmill or 2 times the height to the property line, whichever is greater.

But County Board Chair Sean Flowerday said at the time that if the county didn’t see any permits come forward in a year’s time, he would revisit the regulations.

That’s exactly what the board intends to do, Flowerday said Tuesday.

He doesn’t believe the board intended to set rules to effectively outlaw wind farm development in the county but wanted to provide the greatest quality-of-life assurances it could, Flowerday said.

“We’re still looking for that sweet spot,” he said.

In its letter, the board directed planners to craft new regulations that in particular would reduce the required setback and also change the noise regulations.

So far, 16 letters – many of them form letters – supporting a move to ease the restrictions have been sent to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission calling for fairer regulation for the wind energy industry that respects landowner rights.

The commission will hold a hearing on amended rules in January.

The move comes on the heels of decarbonization goal announcements by the city of Lincoln, Lincoln Electric System and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“It is time to open up Lancaster County for renewable energy development,” Flowerday said.