The Crawford County Board of Supervisors had a lengthy discussion on Tuesday of the next steps the county will take after enacting a temporary moratorium on the construction of new wind turbine towers in the county.
The discussion lasted nearly 35 minutes; the following is an edited and condensed account.
Supervisor Jean Heiden said she had spoken to Madison County Supervisor Diane Fitch.
She said Fitch was guarded in what she spoke about because Madison County is currently being sued by MidAmerican Energy because of a new ordinance that effectively prevents new wind tower construction; Madison County set a limit on the total number of towers in the county at 51, which is how many towers had already been constructed.
Heiden said the two sides of the issue in Madison County are that some people want to keep the county beautiful as a tourism attraction, and others feel that the government is telling them what they can and can’t do on their own property.
“Some farmers have made a decision they want to diversify their income from farm ground,” she said. “(If) they want to put a wind tower up it should be up to them; somebody shouldn’t tell them they can’t.”
She said she asked Assistant County Attorney Martha Sibbel to look into whether the county could assess additional taxes on wind towers, which are not taxed at their full assessed value.
Crawford County Assessor Duane Zenk said turbines such as the ones near Schleswig are valued at about $3 million each.
At roughly 30% of that value, and with a rural levy of $25 per $1,000 of value, the tax liability for one tower is about $25,000, he said.
Heiden said the county may be leaving money on the table.
She said she had read about health and safety hazards of wind turbines; one blew up, another had a blade fall off, people have complained of nervousness and ear ringing.
She noted that some of the complaints could not be shown to have been caused by wind turbines.
“As we go forward with this proposal on more wind turbines in Crawford County we need to take all these things into consideration,” Heiden said.
Every other business is taxed at 100 percent of value, Supervisor Kyle Schultz said.
Additional funds could be earmarked for mental health or another service that has been hard to fund, he said.
Another county is using TIF (tax increment financing) on a field of 50 to 60 wind turbines to finance a new law enforcement/public safety facility, Zenk said.
County Engineer Paul Assman weighed in with a suggestion that a matrix such as the one developed for confined animal feeding operations could be a solution.
“Every one of those sites that gets to a certain size has to meet a certain score and it (sets) terms of separation distance and how it impacts the adjoining properties,” Assman said.
Everyone wants electricity – and it has to come from somewhere, he said.
Assman suggested the Iowa Association of Counties (ISAC) would be an appropriate organization to develop a wind turbine matrix for the whole state.
“We all have a common issue,” he said. “Let’s try to resolve this and bring a group of people together that involves industry people, and for and against.”
Supervisor Ty Rosburg and Schultz said Assman’s idea had merit.
Schultz said he was looking for something consistent – such as a setback of a half-mile – but not something like a mile and a half.
After about 20 minutes of discussion, the supervisors invited Mark Wengierski, Scout Clean Energy director of development, to join the conversation.
Scout Clean Energy is developing a 100-tower wind farm, known as “Silver Queen,” south of Westside.
Wengierski said the project has “incredible landowner support,” with 245 landowners and 30,000 acres participating.
“We came here to Crawford County in 2016 and we were welcomed with open arms,” he said.
The wind farm will create 200 construction jobs and those people will use local restaurants, hotels and other services, Wengierski said.
Jobs for 14 to 18 turbine technicians will be created when the field is in operation.
“This is the fastest growing profession in the US – very well paid jobs,” Wengierski said. “They’re going to be shopping for a house (and) support local businesses.”
His company works on protecting private property rights, he said.
“That goes for these farmers that want to see this project happen but also taking into account the folks that might not be excited about the project,” he said.
Wengierski said some landowners can never be signed, for a variety of reasons.
“But the next-door neighbor that has a half-section of ground is super excited about receiving those three turbines, but if you ask for the wrong setbacks I have to go to that farmer and say, ‘Sorry, you just lost all that revenue for the farm because of these setbacks.’”
He said his company’s wind turbine project will bring about $1 million per year in additional tax revenue to Crawford County.
Large corporations such as Facebook, Amazon and Google want to be co-located with renewable energy and might go somewhere else if it is discouraged in a particular location.
Rosburg asked how much trouble the company has with negotiating setbacks with smaller landowners.
“We go where we know we can site these turbines; we sign that ground up on wind leases, and then we go to the smaller landowners, and it’s called a ‘good neighbor agreement,’” Wengierski said. “That way they make money during construction, they make money during commercial operations, and there we spell out in black and white what that setback should be.
“It becomes a really slippery slope; say you have that 5-acre landowner and they say, ‘I want a half-mile setback,’” he said.
Whether the setback is from the house or the property line is an issue, he said.
“So I have that big farmer sitting right next door, and that farmer is very upset, and you have a very difficult dynamic in the local community because you just had this 5-acre landowner dictate whether that large farmer can receive turbines or not,” Wengierski said. “It gets to be a very contentious local situation.”
“But it is already,” Rosburg said.
Some individuals are not willing to discuss and negotiate an agreement, Wengierski said.
“So you’re saying that the big farmer just dictated to the small-parcel owner that he has to put up with this wind tower regardless of whether he wanted it or not?” Schultz asked.
“There are practices that we as company do when it comes to setting back these nonparticipating property lines,” Wengierski said.
He said the company looks at issues of shadow, glare, flicker and noise to determine the appropriate setbacks and standards.
“And we apply those regardless of whether someone is participating or not,” he said.
“We also want to develop, construct, and operate a responsible wind farm. We don’t want to get us sued for a nuisance lawsuit because we have a flicker issue or a noise issue at a nonparticipating residence.”
He said the company would be willing to share information with the supervisors about how they intend to avoid such issues.
Rosburg said the county’s moratorium is not intended to stop progress but to make sure the right decisions are being made.
Schultz said the county does not want to slow down the project.
“What we’re trying to accomplish here should have been done 10, 15 years ago, already,” he said.
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