SIOUX CITY – Dozens of wind turbine opponents, and a much smaller number of wind turbine advocates, packed the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday evening for a discussion of the county’s commercial wind farm setback distances.
The supervisors are considering amending a wind energy ordinance that would increase the distance between wind turbines and residences in the county, from the current 1,250 feet to a potential 2,500 feet. Supervisor Rocky De Witt originally proposed the 2,500-foot setback after residents contacted him seeking to increase the distance between wind turbines and homes.
Representatives of MidAmerican Energy Company, which has proposed a large wind installation in Woodbury County, said during the meeting that a 2,500-foot setback would hobble the entire project, due to the fact that it would put large swaths of land in the county off-limits because of the proximity to residences.
Among the myriad, emotionally charged concerns raised by the wind-turbine opponents during Tuesday’s lengthy meeting:
“The vote you make today, and in the following weeks, will change lives, and this county, for decades, if not forever, and not for the better,” said Larry Fillipi, of Anthon, Iowa, who made an impassioned plea for the supervisors to increase the turbine setback distances.
The wind-turbine opponents presented the supervisors a petition with more than 720 signatures to the board in favor of the increased setbacks.
Advocates of wind turbines who spoke up cited the environmental benefits of wind turbines, which generate far less carbon emissions than the burning of coal or natural gas; the noise issues raised by the opponents, the advocates said, are exaggerated; and, they said, the rights of property owners who wish to do with their land as they please would be threatened by allowing neighbors to dictate what can be done with land.
“I think that wind turbines are beautiful,” said one of the wind-turbine advocates at the meeting.
“I have grandchildren, I want them to have a clean-energy future,” he added.
MidAmerican’s representatives responded to several of the turbine opponents’ assertions in a presentation – after most of the opponents had already left the room – citing studies that wind turbines do not have a negative impact on property values, and pointing out that wind turbines have a good safety record. They also said MidAmerican plans to explore airplane-safety options for wind turbines that don’t involve red lights blinking incessantly at night, and added that MidAmerican seeks to “minimize” the noise associated with the turbines. They also said that MidAmerican hadn’t planned to install turbines within the boundaries of the Loess Hills.
They pointed out that property owners would receive somewhere between $76 million to $92 million over the roughly 40-year lifespan of the project and that the county would receive around $150 million in tax revenues.
Increasing the setback more modestly – to 1,500 or 1,600 feet – would be more workable, MidAmerican’s representatives at the meeting said.
“A 2,500-foot setback would effectively allow somebody a a half-mile away to decide what you can and can’t do with your property,” said Adam Jablonski, a vice-president of resource development at MidAmerican, who spoke at the meeting.
After the public comments, Supervisors De Witt, Matthew Ung and Jeremy Taylor spoke in favor of increasing the setback distance. Keith Radig and Justin Wright were opposed, citing an opposition to the “tyranny of zoning” laws and lamenting that neighbors can’t hash these matters out themselves, and instead rely on government to provide regulatory solutions.
“Nobody seems to remember that there’s now two – there was four – coal-fired power plants sitting along the river. You don’t even notice them unless you’re going by on the interstate. I have yet to find somebody that wants to to stare at 90 to 100-some-plus wind turbines out there, blinking lights,” said De Witt, referring to MidAmerican’s coal-fired Neal power station south of Sioux City, where he worked for 22 years.
Additional discussion of the turbine setbacks is planned for the supervisors meetings on Aug. 16 and Aug. 23.
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