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Worth County taking steps towards finalizing ordinance on wind energy

The Worth County Board of Supervisors met Monday morning to review changes made to the proposed ordinance on wind energy.

The proposed ordinance was put together by the Worth County Planning and Zoning Commission and presented to the supervisors in June, but there has been minimal action on the ordinance since.

On Monday, however, the supervisors began to review the proposed changes to the original ordinance, along with comments from the commission at the meeting.

There were many proposed changes from the three supervisors, with discussions surrounding shadow flicker, sound analysis and a tower’s proximity to animals, and focal point of the meeting was the discussion over how far a towers is set back from property lines.

The supervisors unanimously agreed to change the “setback” distance, previously defined as the distance from a property line, to the distance home of the property owner, defined as a “human-occupiable building” in the ordinance.

The supervisors eventually settled on the setback distance being the greater of 1,600 feet, 3.75 times the total height of the tower or the manufacturer’s safety distance.

Disagreement on the subject emerged between supervisors Enos Loberg and Mark Smeby over whether there should be an additional setback from property lines.

Smeby was in favor of removing setback distances from property lines, while Loberg wished to implement a setback of 1.25 times times the total height of the turbine.

“If a turbine falls on to your property, you shouldn’t be responsible for cleaning it up,” Loberg said.

Smeby argued that having a setback for both human-occupiable buildings and property lines was contradictory, but Jeff Gorball, the planning and zoning commission chair, said that wasn’t the case.

Gorball said that an additional setback for property lines would theoretically protect from turbines being placed “right on the fence line,” of non-participating landowners.

After discussion, Loberg and Stone indicated they would be in favor of the additional setback while Smeby indicated he would not.

The ordinance will also allow for those requirements to be waived for landowners wishing to allow turbines closer to their property.

Another point of conversation was about how to enforce renovation projects to existing windmills within the county, and all three supervisors had differing opinions.

Smeby said he would be in favor of no restrictions, Loberg said he’d be in favor of requiring permitting if the size of the windmill is changed and supervisor A.J. Stone said he’d be in favor of permitting being required for any renovations making the wind turbine 15 percent bigger than its original size.

Gorball, who spoke on behalf of the entire zoning commission, said that the commission felt 10 percent of the original height was a good number to require permitting for renovations.

The changes discussed will be added to a new draft of the ordinance which will then be reviewed, and potentially acted upon, by the supervisors in a future meeting.

The ordinance was drafted partially in response to the Worthwhile Wind energy project by Invenergy, which has been in development in Worth County since 2018. The project aims to build a wind farm in Worth and Winnebago counties.

Worthwhile Wind’s future is now in limbo after its development agreement failed to pass through a board of supervisors meeting in October, but Invenergy has remained adamant throughout the past few months that any potential ordinance on wind energy would not apply to Worthwhile Wind, due to them having vested rights in the community.

There‚Äôs been significant opposition to the project, with detractors citing the negative impacts of turbines, and broken promises made during the construction of Invenergy’s nearby Deer Creek wind farm, as a reasons for more restrictions to be put on wind energy. Proponents of the project point to the $4.8 million in tax revenue it would bring in infrastructure improvements within the county.