SIOUX CITY – Opponents and supporters of a potential new residence setback distance for commercial wind farms packed the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors meeting for the second week in a row.
The supervisors approved the second reading of an amendment for the commercial wind energy ordinance in a 3-to-2 vote Tuesday. The ordinance revision would increase the distance between wind turbines and residents from the current 1,250 feet to 2,500 feet.
Matthew Ung, Rocky De Witt and Jeremy Taylor voted for the ordinance while Justin Wright and Keith Radig opposed it.
Nearly 80 people turned out for Tuesday’s meeting.
The ordinance was previously approved in July 2021 with a 1,250 foot setback. At the time, there was a small group of individuals who asked for the setback distances to be increased even further.
The topic has come back after the supervisors received numerous comments from citizens, some citing a developing MidAmerican Energy project looking at where wind turbines can be built in the county. Sixty landowners are currently participating in the project, said Adam Jablonski, a vice-president of resource development at MidAmerican.
Many of the opponents of wind turbines who spoke on Tuesday had similar comments to those attending a previous meeting. Those comments and concerns voiced were:
— A wildly shared opinion that turbines are noisy and would interrupt the quality of life of those who reside in the vicinity;
— A belief that turbines are visually displeasing and would alter the aesthetics of the county’s landscape and the Loess Hills;
— Anecdotes of potential environment issues such as turbine blades have been known to kill birds – including bald eagles – and ice off the blades or broken rotor fragments can injure livestock, property or people;
— Concerns that the turbines will decrease property values;
— Beliefs that wind turbine studies and their impacts are biased and inaccurate;
— A dislike of the blinking red light at the top of the turbines for aircraft pilots, saying it is too bright and disrupting and;
— A belief that the instillation and decommission of these turbines will negatively impact the surrounding farmland.
The supervisors asked for a show of hands of who would be in support of the amended ordinance. Most of the attendees showed support, with around six people saying they support the current setbacks.
Only a few at the meeting said the 1,250 foot setback is sufficient. Those who spoke at the Aug. 9 meeting in favor of wind turbines said turbines generate less carbon emissions than the burning of coal or natural gas, an environmental benefit. They also said the noise issues are exaggerated and a such an ordinance would threaten the rights of property owners who want to grant easements for turbines.
Previously, a petition of 720 signatures in favor of the increased setbacks was presented. Another 110 signatures were submitted Tuesday.
MidAmerican Energy representatives spoke at the meeting, addressing turbine opponents’ concerns regarding the noise of the turbines, shadows of the turbines, the property values and the red blinking light.
MidAmerican’s William Dougherty said research done by the University of Iowa Public Health said noise emitted by turbines has no impact on public health. He said the company is also exploring aircraft-safety options for wind turbines that don’t involve constant red lights blinking at night.
Previously, MidAmerican said a 2,500-foot setback would hobble the entire project, creating large off-limit areas of the county.
Jablonski repeated the company’s suggestion of a more modest increase – 1,600 feet or three times the turbine height – would be more workable.
Taylor asked MidAmerican to enter all of the specification and safety data sheets of their proposed turbines into public record, as well as the information of liability contracts if someone was injured.
Ung said in his eight years he has never been contacted about an issue more than he has for this one. He said one issue he has is the turbines could restrict future housing development in a densely populated county.
Prior to the public discussion, County Engineer Mark Nahra suggested the board consider a setback distance of 3.5 times of the turbine height. He said with a turbine 591 feet tall, it would have to be 2,068 feet away from county residents.
The third and final reading will take place at the board of supervisors meeting Tuesday, Aug. 23.
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