Jefferson County is closer to finalizing changes to regulations governing wind farms. At meeting of the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee held the evening of January 13 and decided on regulations regarding noise levels, shadow flicker and decommissioning.
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, newer wind turbines can be considerably taller then they were at the time regulations were originally written.
After considerable debate, the Planning and Zoning Committee opted to reduce the accepted sound levels from the current 60 decibels to 50 decibels. Currently, 50 decibels is an industry standard throughout much of Nebraska. However, some counties require less. For example, Gage County recently changed their regulations to 35 decibels.
Jefferson County Commissioners have expressed concerns that, while the new regulations protect non-participating landowners, they should not be so stringent as to make new wind turbines prohibitive for those who do wish to participate.
Dr. Chris Olsen, representing NextEra, the company that operates the Steele Flats Wind Farm in Steele City, spoke at the meeting. He indicated it is impossible to construct new turbines that meet the sound rules as set in Gage County, “There’s no way you can build a project there.”
Shadow flicker is when the rotating blades of a turbine cast moving shadows across a residence. Bruce Weise of the Planning and Zoning Committee said, “Industry standard limit shadow flicker to 30 hours per year of actual flickering at any nonparticipating occupied residence.”
Olsen said there are no health risks as a result of shadow flicker from wind turbines and that limiting it to 30 hours per year is, “Essentially a nuisance standard.”
The committee voted to accept 30 hours of shadow flicker in the regulations.
County officials and some members of the Planning and Zoning Committee have expressed concern in the past that there be a way to ensure sufficient funds to decommission a wind turbine when it comes to the end of its usefulness.
Planning and Zoning Committee member Bruce Weise indicated he was opposed to requiring any decommissioning plans.
Weise said, “We’ve got grain bins that went down. I mean, we’re going to put decommissioning fees on that too, when the big structure goes up?”
Weise said he felt the onus should be on the participating landowner, “He profited from it, so why shouldn’t he take care of the problem if it falls over?”
David Levy with Baird Holm LLC, the law firm that represents NextEra, noted, “If the county decides to do nothing, not to adopt a decommissioning regulation, by that state statute, it defaults to the state. So the state will cover it, whether you asked them to or not.”
The committee voted not to have a decommissioning plan at all, but leave it up to the state.
The Next Step
Now the Planning and Zoning Commission has established the new rules, a hearing must be held to give members of he public the opportunity to provide input. A hearing will be held on Thursday, February 10, 2022, at 7 p.m.
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