The moratorium is over.
In July of 2020, the Burt County Board of Supervisors decided it would accept no applications for wind energy permits until appropriate regulations and fees were finalized.
That job finished last week.
The county board on Wednesday passed Resolution 2022-05, which puts in place Section 6.03 in the county zoning manual. It outlines the regulations required of a wind energy installation.
Wind energy systems, both commercial and small scale, are addressed in the new section. Both are considered conditional uses, meaning whoever wants to install one has to apply for a permit, gain approval from the county planning commission following a public hearing and get final approval from the county board following another public hearing.
Commercial systems will be subject to a long list of requirements addressing height, the distance between towers as well as distances between other structures. Limits are placed on the amount of noise a system may generate and a system cannot interfere with any commercial and/or public safety communication towers within two miles of a proposed wind system. Applicants also are responsible to restore roads and bridges to preconstruction conditions and applicants must provide a decommissioning plan as part of their original application for a permit.
Commercial or utility grade wind systems are expressly forbidden in residential zoning districts and they also must comply with any overlay district regulations within the county.
Although the list of regulations is now official, that doesn’t mean towers will start going up any time soon. Wind developers present at last week’s county board meeting said it would be six to seven years before any construction could start.
There currently are no conditional use permit applications pending before the planning commission.
The passage came without opposition.
The meeting was moved to the county courtroom in order to accommodate the expected crowd. Approximately 50 residents showed up at the proceedings, many of them in opposition to commercial wind energy generation in general.
During nearly an hour of public comment, many referenced a map produced by the Federal Aviation Administration a few years ago that showed the proposed sited for several towers throughout the county.
One of the speakers, Craig area man Colby Hansen, said he moved here from Phoenix, Arizona, and the proposed 650-foot towers are taller than any building in that city.
“Have you driven through Iowa at night?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s a sea of red lights. It’s awful.
“If the turbines were here first, who’d build a home here? No one.”
The resolution also was passed over the objections of a group of local investors and land owners, known as Burt County Wind, who have been working for a number of years to bring wind energy development to the county.
Represented by Graham Christensen, the group thinks some of the setbacks spelled out in the new section are too restrictive. Among them is the requirement that a tower be no closer to an occupied dwelling than three and a half times the total height of the structure and a minimum of 1,800 feet. Wind towers also must be two times the total height away from a property line.
Christensen asked that the distance from a dwelling be reduced to three times the total height and the distance from a property line be 1.1 times the height as sought in earlier drafts of the regulations.
“Burt County Wind has been consistent from the start over what the setbacks should be,” he said. “The landowners don’t support these setbacks.”
He said the extended setbacks did not signal a pro-business stance to wind developers.
Mark Vander Hart, chairman of the Tekamah Airport Zoning Board, said the huge rotor blades on a 650-foot tower, “make a 747 look like a mosquito.”
He said wind towers would pose a serious threat to aviation in the county, including the number of aerial application services that serve farmers.
“It’ll have an effect on revenue for aerial applicators,” he said. “Pilots won’t fly between the towers.
David Bracht, an attorney with Kutak Rock in Omaha who once was head of the state energy office, said the county’s comprehensive plan was very supportive of renewable energy and that the whole county benefits from the nameplate capacity tax payable on each tower. Under state law, the tax is a flat rate of $3,518 per megawatt of the project’s generating capacity for each year of the project’s lifetime. According to the U.S. governments’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the average capacity of newly installed U.S. wind turbines in 2020 was 2.75 megawatts, an eight percent increase over the previous year.
At 2.75 megawatts, the nameplate tax on a wind tower would be $9,674.50 per tower. The 25-year life span of a tower would net the county $2.42 million in additional tax revenue per tower.
“I’m guessing you hear a lot about property taxes,” Bracht said. “The only way to lessen property tax is to create more property. This does that.”
Following public testimony, supervisors pored over the document to make any final changes.
District 5 Supervisor Dale Webster complemented the planning commission for its diligent work in creating the new regulations.
“I’d hate to go back and make them do it again,” he said.
In other business during its Feb. 9 meeting, the county board:
—Passed a resolution naming Katie Hart as the county’s new assessor. She will fill out the term of Joni Renshw who resigned at the end of January. In her letter of resignation, Renshaw recommended Hart as her replacement.
The term runs until early in January as the office is up for election in November.
Hart has field for election.
—Hired deputy sheriff K.C. Bang as emergency manager for the county on a part-time basis. Bang needs one more test from the state to have all the required certifications to serve as a county emergency manager. He previously served as part-time emergency manager for the City of Schuyler.
“I’ll be the first to say it if it isn’t working,” Bang said. “But I wouldn’t have applied for it if I didn’t think it would work.”
The board also hired Audra Connealy as his full-time assistant. She also will have to obtain the necessary certifications to work as an emergency manager. The intent was to have someone in the EM office consistently during business hours. Connealy already works for the roads department which shares office space with emergency management.
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