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Washington County considers ordinances for wind farms

With a potential wind farm project on the horizon, the Washington County Board of Supervisors is looking at establishing a pair of ordinances to set parameters for any such projects in the county.

While there are no plans in place, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Seward Jr. said that the board wants to be proactive.

“When we first heard about this project coming in was in the summer of 2020,” Seward said. “As we started trying to think about it, we had some informal discussions with representatives from Invenergy, the company that is promoting this.”

Seward said that Invenergy has opened an office in Washington and is seeking to sign up landowners for a potential wind farm project.

“From what little I know, I suspect they have to have about 10,000 acres within that footprint signed up,” he said. “I’ve been told that they plan on windmills that will be between 100 and 120 in number.

“If Iowa County is any inkling as to what’s going on, these windmills will be 500 to 600 feet tall.”

He said that the company has had no official contact with the board or the county at this point in time.

Seward explained that the board is looking to put two ordinances in place, one regarding valuation of the land and equipment and another regarding regulations pertaining to the construction and operation of a wind farm.

“The first one was to consider an ordinance that establishes a way to put a price on the equipment involved in a wind turbine project for assessed value purposes so it can be taxed,” he said. “The equipment that’s put in will have a taxable value.”

Seward said that about 30 years ago, wind energy companies reached an agreement with the state regarding how they are taxed.

“It’s a special deal,” he said. “It’s a deal that no other business, company, moneymaking project, whether it’s publicly-owned or privately owned, gets.

“There is no taxable valuation for the first year when those blades start turning.”

The following year, the county can tax only 5 percent of its taxable valuation. Every year, it goes up 5 percent until a maximum of 30 percent is reached.

“All they will ever be taxed is 30 percent of the agreed upon valuation,” Seward said. “This ordinance sets out how they will establish that assessed value. I don’t know of any county in the state of Iowa that has a wind project that didn’t pass this ordinance.”

He said that the county does not necessarily have to adopt an ordinance within those parameters.

“We could adopt something completely different if we wanted to, but the problem is if we do something different from what the industry, the state and the Department of Revenue have agreed what’s fair, there’s a lot of high-powered lawyers that are going to come down on the county of Washington, the assessor’s office and the assessment board to fight whatever it is we did if we vary from this,” Seward said.

The second ordinance sets out the rules and regulations that a wind energy company would have to follow if they build a project in the county.

“It would cover things like the big equipment is going to damage our roads, so if you’re going to do that, then we have an agreement about the road system and the repair and upkeep of it,” Seward said. “We also would have something to say about setbacks from their equipment to other property lines. We could have a different setback from a non-participating property owner.

“We could have required setbacks for agricultural buildings or residences or things like that.”

Another concern is whether a wind farm would interfere with the county’s new emergency communication system.

Decommissioning plans is another thing Seward said should be included in the second ordinance.

“If a wind farm doesn’t work out or if a turbine fails, they’re just not going to say it’s not worth it to fix it so they’re just going to let it stand and abandon it,” Seward said.

He said that the board is trying to model the ordinance after one that passed in Union County in 2019.

“We’ve looked at ordinances that have been passed in other areas,” he said. “As time goes on, everyone tries to learn from other counties’ experiences.”

He added that supervisors would like to talk with Iowa County officials because a wind farm was recently constructed there.