MADISON – Trying to set a fee for solar and wind farms that is fair to businesses and also covers the county expenses for employee labor to regulate them can be tricky.
Madison County has been working on new fees for months, seeking input from other counties, solar and wind companies and a national trade association to update its old fees that were established more than 10 years ago.
The Madison County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 on Monday to approve a set of fees as follows: $2,500 for a conditional-use permit for a wind farm, $300 per turbine; and $130 for a solar conditional-use permit – which is the same as a feedlot – and $300 per construction or building permit.
Heather McWhorter, Madison and Pierce counties zoning director, said Antelope, Knox, Kimball, Hamilton, Cass and Merrick counties responded to the request.
The fees ranged from $10,000 for a wind conditional-use permit and $500 per tower in Antelope County to $350 for a wind conditional-use permit and $1,000 per tower in Kimball County. Most solar fees were the regular conditional-use permit (generally around $100) to a high of $300 for the conditional-use permit.
In October, the Madison County Joint Planning Commission voted 6-3 to recommend the fees that were approved, although it suggested charging $3,000 for a wind conditional-use permit instead of $2,500. The joint planning commission was considering that the permits can be controversial and require a lot of time.
McWhorter said she agrees with the joint planning recommendations generally, including that the solar permit doesn’t require near as much time. For one thing, the solar farm is located in one area while wind farms have turbines in many locations.
Troy Uhlir, county board chairman, asked if the county finds out that it is taking more time or less time for solar or wind, could it adjust the fees?
“Absolutely, because those fees are set by the board,” McWhorter said.
Ron Schmidt, county board chairman, asked if based on the $300 fee per turbine fee, would the county get its costs covered?
McWhorter said yes. The individual tower requires McWhorter and an inspector to go out to each site, which will be about two visits and paperwork.
The conditional-use permit is just an overall plan that the company provides, along with research and other information. That mostly requires McWhorter to look it over and verify it, McWhorter said.
Then the conditional-use permit also requires multiple phone calls ahead of the public hearings for the joint planning commission and county board when the project is considered, she said.
“We just want to make sure it covers time and expense,” she said.
Schmidt said he agrees. The county wants to make sure it isn’t making money off the permits but is covering time and expenses.
Commissioner Christian Ohl said he appreciates all the input that the county received, including the joint planning commission and a representative of a wind farm.
Uhlir said if the county gets a big influx of wind farms, it can always hire an additional worker and raise fees if needed.
Madison County has not had a commercial wind farm or solar farm, although there have been permits issues for personal-use wind and solar operations.
A few companies have constructed towers to check wind speeds and directions to see if a wind farm would be feasible. Data is still being gathered on wind speeds from two of the latest ventures.