Jefferson County is closer to finalizing changes to regulations governing wind farms.
At a meeting of the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee held the evening of Thursday, January 6, at the Jefferson County Courthouse, some changes to said regulations were agreed upon. Others were tabled until the next meeting.
On September 15, 2021, Jefferson County Commissioners voted unanimously to institute a six-month moratorium on wind farm applications, feeling it was necessary to review and possibly revise the policies that govern the placing of wind turbines within the county, due in large part to changing technology. Newer wind turbines can be considerably taller than they were at the time regulations were originally written.
The maximum height of the turbines at the Steele Flats Wind Farm in Steele City is 427 feet. According to Matthew Jones, Project Director Development for NextEra, “Probably the top of the range that we are looking at currently would be somewhere in, 500 to 525.
“They have gotten bigger, the blades. The technology is improving. They’re able to get more efficient with the blades. And in certain cases, there’s ways to make the blades quieter, just with the shape,” said Jones.
“And so things are kind of evolving that way with the height. So you’re finding that the higher they go, they’re actually quieter, is what we’re finding.”
A major discussion was on noise levels. Bruce Weise of the Planning and Zoning Committee read the current regulations regarding sound state, “No system shall exceed 60 decibels to the nearest structure occupied by humans.”
An exception is made during severe weather.
A recommendation was under consideration to change the allowed sound level from 60 decibels to 50. Weise said,
“It sounds to me like the industry is kind of going towards 50 decibels.”
Weise has expressed concern at previous meetings that setting limits to sound levels for wind turbines opens the door for regulating other sources of noise, “I’ve got an irrigation motor within a third of a mile of homestead. I guarantee you they’re going to be over 50. If we start here, you know, getting down below, and the next thing is, the county board is going to come say we’re going to have to start regulating irrigation motors.”
According to Jefferson and Saline County Emergency Manager John McKee, Saline County has set the limit at 45 decibels for wind turbine.
“Saline County Zoning Administrator called me the other day,” said McKee.
“He’s already getting phone calls on engines, fans, tractors, complaining about that.”
A concern among board members is the question of enforcement. At a previous meeting, the was explained by David Levy with Baird Holm LLP, a law firm that represents NextEra Energy Resources, that the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners enforces the regulations, “By revoking the special use permit, that they’re relying on to operate a multi-hundred-million dollar project.”
However, Planning and Zoning Board member Kevin Banaham said, “Last meeting, when you said the idea that you could go to the board and they could revoke your special use permit, do we really think that’s going to happen? I mean, to suggest that to me is just ludicrous. That’s just ridiculous. Once the things up, the county commissioners aren’t going to go over there and tell you got to shut it down because it’s too noisy.”
County Commissioner Michael Dux was present at the meeting. When asked by FJN if he would vote to withdrew a special use permit for a wind farm if the turbines do not follow noise regulations, or any other county regulations, Dux responded, “More than likely, yes.”
Dux pointed to examples where the county has done just that, such as grain bins or storage tanks, that didn’t follow regulations and had to be torn down or relocated, though none of these would involve the same sort of expense as a wind turbine.
If a turbine exceeds set decibel regulations, it is possible to reduce the noise. That is according to Matthew Jones, “There’s mechanisms that can slow the turbine down and even curtail it.”
Jones said, “I think that all those mechanisms are in place to make sure that these projects are, you know, following the rules and also we don’t want to damage the infrastructure either. So that’s why they have the abilities to shut them down, slow down, and do different things to make them fit within the community.”
“To me, it really doesn’t matter what the decibel level is. I just don’t think there’s any way you can I keep it to the 50 decibel level or less. It’s just not physically possible,” said Banahan.
“The idea that they’re going to come over here with a complaint and try to make sure that’s not ever above 50 decibels, I doubt that would ever happen.”
Weise said, “Well, other counties have the same regulations. I mean this is kind of a state standard.:
The board voted to table changing the decibel regulations. Another meeting will be held on Thursday, January 13, 2022, 7:00 p.m. at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
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