SIOUX CITY – More than 100 people attended the final reading of a Woodbury County ordinance revision to increase wind turbine setbacks.
For three weeks in a row, many Woodbury County residents attended the Board of Supervisors meeting to speak in favor of changing the current commercial wind ordinance setback distances for residences from 1,250 feet to 2,500 feet. Some of those who spoke want larger setback distances, or completely ban commercial turbines.
The supervisors approved the third and final reading of the ordinance and adoption of the ordinance in a 3-to-2 vote Tuesday. Matthew Ung, Rocky De Witt and Jeremy Taylor voted for the ordinance while Justin Wright and Keith Radig opposed it.
Radig said at the beginning of the public hearing that he believed none of the supervisors would change their minds hearing from the citizens. He said he has set core values and beliefs, and believes wind turbine restrictions infringe on property rights.
“I didn’t run for public office to please everybody or make everybody happy I ran because I have a core set of beliefs, I feel I’m right and I’m going to make make those decisions based off of that,” he said.
Wright said he received emails and phone calls from people both for and against the new setbacks equally in the last week. He said a minority of Woodbury County are vocal about their desire for wind energy in the county and this decision strips away their rights.
Ung said Woodbury County is not stopping statewide wind energy with this ordinance change but said it is not fit for Woodbury County.
“The nuisance issues are exacerbated by population density in Woodbury County compared to other areas with industrial wind farms that are widespread,” he said.
He also said that bringing in wind turbines would essentially be an irreversible choice.
Erin Peterson from Audubon County said he drove to Woodbury County to speak about his experiences with a wind turbine 1,642 feet away from his home. He said he has had problems including crop damage, blinking lights and dead birds. He is currently struggling to get $425,000 from the company for crop damages.
Daniel Hair of Hornick has spoken at all of the meetings, expressing his dislike for wind turbines. He read headlines from news organizations around the world including France and Australia outlining the negative impact of wind turbines on health and life.
A petition that has been circulating in the community in favor of the new setback positions is now up to 900 signatures, one attendee presented.
Many of the opponents of wind turbines who spoke on Tuesday had similar comments to those attending the previous two meetings. Some of those comments and concerns voiced were:
— An opinion that wind turbines are damaging to people and animal’s health;
— Anecdotes of people from counties with wind turbines, sharing the negative impact on their farming and livelihoods;
— The installation of turbines will disturb the soil and prevent healthy crop growth;
— Concerns that the turbines will decrease property values;
— 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 environmental 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;
— Presented studies that show wind turbines can create dead zones for the National Weather Service which would prevent storm tracking and storm alerts;
— 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 one person saying they support the current setbacks.
The Iowa Environmental Council, a nonprofit organization tracking county processes for clean energy projects, has sent a letter to the board of supervisors against the setback distances.
The letter states the increase could “imperil the viability of wind energy development in Woodbury County.”
Bob Fritzmeier of Sioux City said he is part of the Sierra Club in Northwest Iowa, an environmental club. He said there are 970 supporters of wind turbines and members in Woodbury County and the club opposes the setback distances. He also said the coal plants in Woodbury County are more than 40 years old and will have to be retired.
“Woodbury County has an opportunity to sustain jobs and improve the environment and living conditions for its residents through locally-sited wind farms. We believe it is important to the community to replace the tax base with clean energy projects before the George Neal plants retire, which they will eventually,” according to a Sierra Club letter sent to the board.
Fritzmeier said he hoped the board would make their decision based on the sustainability for the future.
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.
MidAmerican’s William Dougherty presented additional studies to the board on the safety of wind turbines.
Taylor previously asked MidAmerican to enter all of the specification and safety data sheets of their proposed turbines into the public record, as well as the information of liability contracts if someone was injured.
Dougherty presented and submitted the liability obligation. He said MidAmerican is liable for any damages caused to the property such as crop damage and safety actions. The company also has liability insurance coverage of $5 million on their turbines.
Doyle Turner of Moville said the liability insurance is an insultingly low number.
He also submitted the specifications and safety data. He said the information outlines most manufacturers do not determine setback distances but suggest following national and state guidelines.
GE has a setback recommendation of 1.1 times turbine height with a 550 feet minimum, Dougherty said. It is from areas of public use including residences.
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