A Reno County Commissioner suggested Tuesday that southeast Reno County residents and the Chamber of Commerce try to reach some agreement between themselves on commercial wind development regulations for the county.
Commissioner Daniel Friesen asked the commission to table discussion on proposed Wind Energy Conversion System zoning regulations until the board’s April 13 meeting to allow those discussions to occur, or for Friesen to come to his own conclusions on zoning restrictions.
“I think for the particular entities that are affected, I think there are opportunities yet for them to come together so this issue is less divisive when we decide,” Friesen said.
While noting the regulations aren’t written for a specific project or location, Friesen said it’s recognized their application will be limited to certain areas within the county.
“Getting this right on the front end is important to me, so we don’t spend the next year or two and end up in the same position we are now,” he said. “I think the different interests involved, specifically those most-affected property owners, both participating and non-participating, should have some discussions with the economic development interests of this community.
“I think that’s something we missed previously, that some of those could be solved or at least discussed better outside of this particular forum. This is my encouragement, by not making a decision today, that the parties should look to some potential outcome that benefits both.”
Commission Chairman Ron Hirst came to Tuesday’s meeting prepared to continue discussions on the regulations and read from prepared remarks before attempting to engage the other commissioners on points still outstanding.
Commissioner Ron Sellers initiated Tuesday’s discussion by noting he understood, though he’d not spoken to him directly, that Friesen wasn’t prepared to vote.
So, both declined to engage with Hirst, and Friesen made the motion to table until April “or earlier if agreement is reached.”
Hirst voted against the motion, saying he preferred the issue come back on March 30.
During multiple public hearings that have occurred over the more than 18 months the issue has been debated, the wide divide between residents and the chamber has been evident.
A group of residents in the southeast quadrant who have incorporated in their battle for strong regulations have requested a minimum 3,000-foot setback from property lines of nonparticipating landowners, plus restrictions on sound and shadow flicker.
The chamber initially opposed any setbacks in the regulations, contending they should be negotiated. Chamber representatives have since argued anything stricter than what the Reno County Planning Commission voted on and sent to the county commission will kill all future development.
Friesen also pointed out a bill is pending before the Legislature that could make the county’s discussions moot.
Senate Bill 279 was introduced in the Committee on State and Federal Affairs on Feb. 24 and referred to the Committee on Utilities the next day. It remains before that committee and has not been heard, meaning it is likely dead for this session.
Hirst, who was not aware of the bill, noted the county would still have the ability to make regulations more strict than state law, but not less.
The proposed legislation, however, is significantly more strict than proposed in Reno County. It would set minimum setbacks at 12 times the height of a turbine, or 7,920 feet, from any residential property or public building and 10 times the height, or 5,280 feet, from the property line of non-participating real property.
The proposal also limits turbine density to no more than one per square mile and states that property leases for turbines would be presumed to be abandoned within three years if construction did not begin.
The commission, incidentally, after previously saying it wouldn’t accept more public comment on the issue, allowed businessman Jason West to speak at Tuesday’s meeting.
West, of Genzada Pharmaceuticals and Geochemical, said he didn’t have any comment specific to the regulations being discussed, but instead spoke “in favor of NextEra wind.”
“At the end of the day, the benefits outweigh the negatives,” West said.
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