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Part 2 of 2 parts
Since before April 27, the Crawford County Board of Supervisors has been discussing greater setback distances for wind turbine towers to lower the noise levels and reduce the flicker effect caused by the turbine blades.
August 27 is the date on which the supervisors’ moratorium on new wind turbine construction went into effect, and now the supervisors are facing a quickly-approaching July 1 expiration date to the moratorium.
The agenda for today’s supervisors meeting (Tuesday, June 22) included an item to discuss and take action on language for a wind turbine ordinance or amendment to the current zoning ordinance. Those waiting for the supervisors’ decision include county residents who want a greater setback distance; those who are generally opposed to wind turbines altogether; Scout Clean Energy, which has been in the process of developing a wind farm near Westside since 2016; and county residents who signed leases to have wind turbines on their property at the present setback distances.
A last Tuesday’s meeting, the question was posed if Scout Clean Energy is closer to getting wind lease contracts signed or if the board of supervisors is holding the company up from getting the leases signed.
“We have some landowners that are uncertain now,” said Mark Wengierski, Scout Clean Energy director of development. “We had the initial ordinance and those setbacks in 2016 when we started leasing. We ultimately thought those were the rules we’d be playing by.
“Now the rules appear to be changing on us mid-game. We do have some landowners looking at this saying, ‘If you are changing the setbacks, should I sign the lease?’ We know some folks are taking a wait-and-see approach.”
Steve Mumm, a Westside area resident who spoke in favor of wind turbines, asked if Scout Clean Energy has a breaking point when it would “just throw in the towel.”
“We’ve been here since 2016. We have over $4 million invested in this project,” said Wengierski. “We’ve had tremendous uncertainty in the viability of the project now interjected here in Crawford County. With any extension to the moratorium we just have to look at our future in Crawford County going forward and whether we can accomplish anything with this board.”
Supervisor Ty Rosburg pointed out that the current board of supervisors is trying to establish parameters so future boards won’t have to.
“When this was brought to us originally, it seemed like there was some uncertainty as far as quality of life, and so that’s why we decided to take it up,” Rosburg said. “Now, we didn’t want to stir up a hornets’ nest but I’m learning very quickly most everything we do stirs up some kind of stack of problems.”
He continued that the board wants to create something that works for Scout Clean Energy or whatever other companies develop wind farms in the county. He said the board doesn’t want to halt economic development or welfare outside as well as inside the area.
“We all use electricity,” Rosburg said.
Wengierski introduced another side to the issue last Tuesday when he said that advancements in the turbine manufacturer’s technology over the past 30 days could possibly decrease the number of wind turbine locations.
When he visited with the board of supervisors seven weeks ago, Wengierski said the plan was to use General Electric (GE) 3.03 megawatt wind turbines. Now Scout Clean Energy has received notice from GE that it is going to be rolling out a 3.4 megawatt wind turbine and ultimately phase out the 3.03 megawatt wind turbines.
Wengierski continued that Scout Clean Energy initially said the 300 megawatt project would have 100 wind turbines, and to make the math easy, he estimated 50 wind turbines on the Carroll County side of the project and 50 on the Crawford County side. Under the scenario Wengierski gave, the number of turbines could decrease to 88, and to follow the same split, it would mean 44 in each county.
But he added that the company always builds alternates into its array because the soil samples to be taken have to show that the soil conditions can support 400 cubic yards of concrete, which he pointed out would be sourced locally.
“We have to run through all those scenarios to make sure we have good tangible location for each of these 44 wind turbines,” he said.
He added the idea that GE might come back again and say a wind turbine with more than 3.4 megawatts is being offered, although he continued that it would take time for a manufacturer to roll that out.
“We’re trying to balance that as well and trying to get these locations planned,” said Wengierski.
Jeri Vogt, chairperson of the supervisors, asked Wengierski if going from 50 wind turbines to 44 in Crawford County could be a possibility, what that would do to the Scout Clean Energy’s own parameters on setback distances.
“We’re still waiting to see the dimension of the new turbines from the manufacturer,” said Wengierski. We know the gearbox is getting bigger, doing from 3.03 to 3.4 megawatts.
“What we don’t know is if they are adjusting the tower height up or down and if they are adjusting the blade length,” he continued. “Are they going to slap the same blades from the 3.02 onto the 3.4? We’re waiting to see what those dimensions are actually going to be.”
Wengierski explained that a change in the blade length or tower height will mean that Scout Clean Energy will be adjusting its setbacks.
“From a siting standpoint, we want 1.1 times tip height from a county road, township road, utility line, distribution lines,” he said. “If they change the blade length, if its longer, that means we have to push the turbines back further from the existing infrastructure.”
He added that includes setbacks from residences.
Following are more questions asked of Wengierski and his answers. The questions were posed by those in favor of wind turbines and greater setback distances for wind turbines, those against wind turbines in any form and from supervisors.
Question: What does the company offer in terms of training for firefighters and other emergency personnel who would be called to an incident at a wind turbine tower?
Wengierski offered a two-point answer. His first point was that the wind turbines would create additional tax revenue that would flow into the fire districts. The second point was that at the start of operations at the wind farm, company representatives would go through boots-on-the-ground safety training with local emergency management personnel on the responses to possible events at a tower site.
Question: When water drips off the tower or the blades, does it create holes in crop ground or cause erosion.
Wengierski: The time water would drip from the blades would be after an icing incident. The generator would be shut down to allow the ice to melt off the wind turbine. Most of the time when an icing event occurs, no crops are on the land. He said some impact could occur but said on projects he’s worked on in Kansas and Illinois, water dripping from a structure has not had an impact on soybean and corn fields. The wind lease agreement with landowners says if issues arise with erosion on the property because of the wind farm being constructed, it’s the company’s responsibility to mitigate it and fix it.
Question: When the project is built, how many jobs will be created and are they going to be held by people who live in the Crawford County area? Because the project is on the east side of Crawford County, are they call going to live in Carroll County, and not just Carroll County, but are some going to be coming out of Ames and other cities? Since you can’t dictate where people live, will there be a response time requirement?
Wengierski: The project would probably create between 10 and 14 full-time employees, including a site manager, deputy site manager and turbine technicians. The operation and maintenance building will be located roughly south of Westside, although the location is being finalized. The employees will have to show up at the operation and maintenance building on a daily basis in order to keep the turbines operating. People will also be doing weed management and other maintenance to make sure the project is operating correctly and is adhering to the terms of the wind leases. People can’t live too far away from the operation and maintenance building south of Westside and still make it to work on time at 8 a.m.
Question: What is the setback distance in Carroll?
Wengierski: 1,000 feet from residences.
Question: How many residences does that affect in Carroll County?
Wengierski: It is estimated at the same as in Crawford County, 112 residences. He explained that after the boundaries of the project were established, a mile buffer area was created, so of the 112 residences, 71 are inside the project boundaries and 41 are in the mile buffer area
Question: Have the supervisors seen the company’s audited financial statement? Halfway through the project, if the company goes bankrupt, what happens to the wind farm? What happens if the project is sold to a company that is not as responsible?
Answer from Supervisor Eric Skoog: The company answered questions like this when it went before the Iowa Utilities Board. All these requirements had to be fulfilled before the Iowa Utilities Board.
Wengierski: The wind lease spells out what happens if the project is unfinished. The wind lease has two paragraphs that spell out – if the company goes bankrupt, if construction is not completed, if the project is abandoned – what the financial mechanism is through bonding to have those facilities removed. That is a condition in the wind lease, which has been vetted by about two dozen attorneys, and nearly 200 landowners have signed the lease.
Supervisor Kyle Schultz said, as other supervisors have said, the only way to decrease decibels is to increase the setback distance. He added that he’s always been a proponent that decibel measurements are kind of hit and miss and continued that the quality of decibel meters varies.
“I think we’ve been tasked as a board to sit down and find out what those numbers are going to be and decide on that,” said Schultz.
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