Tuesday’s Crawford County Board of Supervisors meeting brought another marathon discussion about the pros and cons of wind turbine towers.
Facing the supervisors is the July 1 expiration of a moratorium they placed on the construction of new wind turbine towers. That went into place on April 27 and since that time the supervisors have been gathering information on their own and receiving correspondence and comments from the public, all in an effort to determine any changes they might make to regulating wind turbine construction and placement.
Two items have come up repeatedly in the volumes of information shared – the setback distance from rural residents who don’t want wind towers near them and the acceptable level of noise that is created by the wind generators.
Through most of the discussion, 45 decibels, and sometimes 47 decibels, has been the maximum noise level. As Mark Wengierski, Scout Clean Energy director of development, pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting that would be the gross decibel level – the ambient noise level prior to the construction of a wind turbine tower plus the noise created by the wind generator.
Scout Clean Energy is planning to build a large wind turbine field south of Westside. Their work began in 2016 and so far the company has invested about $4 million in the project.
A question the supervisors addressed is how much more information they need to make a decision.
Supervisor Jean Heiden commented on that toward the end of Tuesday’s discussion after a member of the audience suggested that the supervisors have a booth at the county fair, which takes place in late July, to provide information and gather comments.
“I feel like how much information do we need to gather?” Heiden asked. “How many pros and cons and how many forums? It’s kind of maybe going to come to the point where we need to just make that decision.”
“We could take two years to decide it. What’s going to change? I can’t think of another piece of information, email – good, bad or otherwise – that I can read or gather that I’m going to learn any more in two years than I’m going to have learned in this last – how long have we been doing this – two months,” Heiden continued. “You can just keep sending me every single thing and it just becomes muddied. We as a board should feel confident that we’re making our decision based on the information we’ve gathered in the last couple months. I don’t know what other information there’s going to be.”
Concerning a booth at the fair, Supervisor Ty Rosburg pointed out that the board of supervisors’ room is their booth, and he and other supervisors pointed out that people can contact them by phone and email.
To open up next Tuesday’s discussion about wind turbines to more people, Heiden suggested having a Zoom meeting at 10:20 a.m. That would take place during the supervisors’ regular meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. on June 22. The supervisors were agreeable to that.
The meeting agenda had not yet been posted on the county’s website as of press time on Thursday night. Watch the Denison Bulletin and Review’s website at www.dbrnews.com and the newspaper’s Facebook page for details about the meeting and how to access the Zoom meeting by computer or phone for audio only.
At the beginning of Tuesday’s discussion, Rosburg mentioned that the time was drawing near for the supervisors to make a decision.
“I’d like to see us start moving toward a consensus on where we want to be within developing a matrix. We’ve begun to talk about setbacks and we wanted to talk to some people,” he said.
Rosburg said it appears to him that measuring the setback distance from the foundation of a residence is the best method.
“We just have to develop the right number from foundation to foundation,” he said.
Rosburg said the issue has four sides.
“There are people who want them (wind turbine towers) on their property for whatever reason there is. There are people who aren’t crazy about them on anybody’s property. Then there are the people who will be future taxpayers of Crawford County, when towers are on their properties. Then there are taxpayers who are presently here and the benefits they receive.”
One difference at Tuesday’s meeting compared to previous supervisors’ meetings is that for the first time, people who were in favor of wind turbine towers came to the board room to comment. That was something that Supervisor Kyle Schultz pointed out toward the end of the meeting.
Those two individuals were Steve Mumm, who lives in the Westside area, and Jim Sharp, from Dow City.
Mumm, who is on the county’s board of adjustment, said he was involved with wind turbines when the towers north of Westside went up a number of years ago. He said he likes the concept and had a number of positive and negative things to say about them.
His first point is that the people who signed up to have towers put on their property for the current project already gave their vote that they want them.
“That to me is a big figure. They’re the ones that are going to live among them,” said Mumm. “There are a few that are homeowners that have to put up with them and won’t get any benefit. We understand that. It’s kind of like living in Westside and having a train come through. It’s part of life. Trains pay a lot of taxes. You put up with it.”
Other points of Mumm’s comments are the following.
– Noise is a problem but wind direction, buildings and trees negate the noise. Flicker from the blades is about the same thing, he added. Trees and the orientation of the sun can block the flicker.
– Mumm said he is “not too wild” that a wind turbine company can dictate what they will say about ownership on a person’s property. “The foundation makes sense. It gives you an even number to go from and a safety number. It’s just that it puts the wind company dictating to me what I can do with my property,” he added.
– He said as a member of the county’s board of adjustment, there are probably ways things can be worked out if a tower is going to be closer than 1,320 feet (one of the numbers that has been proposed) or whatever number the county ends up using.
– When the towers on the north edge of Westside were put up it created about 20% tax relief for the citizens of the Ar-We-Va School District. Mumm said the new towers would be in the Ar-We-Va district and would create more tax relief.
Sharp spoke about the economic development aspect of the wind towers, and he was concerned about the regulations for wind towers changing after Scout Clean Energy already invested millions.
“I’m kind of concerned about the image we’re going to leave for potential customers to come here when you can change the rules at the last minute,” he said. “Not that they don’t need to be adjusted. I’m not saying that.”
Rosburg pointed out that the wind tower regulations were not something that was on the top of anybody’s list to deal with, but issues came to light which the supervisors felt they needed to address.
“We want to be responsible to development. That’s one of the things I ran on so it’s important to me,” he said. “I do believe that property out there that’s yours, however you need to farm it to make it good for your business plus looking after American’s needs, whether its feedstuffs or power stuff. As long as it doesn’t affect the quality of life for someone to the degree they can’t adjust. That’s why we wanted to make sure we look at this to make sure it is something everyone could adjust to or what it would take to be able to adjust to.”
Sharp asked people to think when they go home and turn on the lights and have air conditioning, it’s because somebody along the line gave permission to have transmission lines put on their property.
“And now that we have 40% of our electric generated by wind turbines, just thank those people who are willing to put that up,” he added.
Not all comments at Tuesday’s meeting were positive toward wind turbines. Justin Heiman said he bought 10 acres of property near Westside in 2016 and said he had not been informed that a wind farm in the area was being planned. He said there was not enough public information about the wind farm plans.
Wengierski said Scout Clean Energy wasn’t trying to hide that it was buying wind leases or trying to put a project together.
“There are nearly 300 landowners within the project area,” he said. “Going back to 2016 with the land agents, we’re trying to shake the hands of property owners large and small to let them know we are here. My apologies if you feel as though we missed you. At the height of signing up leases we were running eight land agents and trying to go visit with everyone.”
Other representatives of Scout Clean Energy pointed to landowner meetings and landowner dinners that were conducted in Westside. Everyone that Scout Clean Energy expected to be part of the project was invited.
Joe Rosener, who has a farm near Westside, also didn’t hear about the plans for the wind farm at the time of the landowner meetings. But it was pointed out that Rosener’s land is just out the project area and Wengierski indicated that’s the reason he had not been contacted.
However, Mumm also said he thought the meetings were only for landowners who would have a wind turbine on their land and not neighbors to the project. He thought that should be cleared up for future projects so that everyone is invited.
Despite the comments about the economic benefits of wind farm projects, the supervisors pointed out that money is not the reason they are looking at the regulations. That came up after Rosener asked if the supervisors were basing their decision on information about money or information on what’s best for the people of the county. He admitted later that he probably didn’t word his statement the best after Rosburg said he almost took umbrage to it.
“The only reason we’re here today is because we’re looking after the people of Crawford County,” said Rosburg, pointing out if it was just about money, the discussions would not have taken place.
“We know what the tax revenue is,” added Heiden. “If it was just the money, that would have been easy. We wouldn’t have given one concern about setbacks and noise.”
Online and in Tuesday’s Denison Bulletin: The setback breaking point and how wind turbine technology could change the scope of the project.