Wind energy regulations will likely be more stringent in Gage County as the Board of Supervisors works through a series of changes to its policies.
Following multiple public hearings by both the County Board of Supervisors and Planning and Zoning Commission, the board took action on several changes to the regulations during Wednesday’s regular meeting.
The board went through each of the proposed changes to the 23 page document during the more than five-hour board meeting Wednesday morning.
All changes voted on by the board are to a proposed document, which will be voted on at a future meeting to gain final approval.
While discussions regarding changes to the amendments date back around two years, board member Emily Haxby presented several additional changes for discussion Wednesday morning that members saw for the first time.
County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann suggested the board move forward with reviewing the regulations, even though planning and zoning officials hadn’t seen many of the proposed changes.
“You could pull something out of the sky that you want in this because you think it’s really important,” he said. “Planning and Zoning has given us a template, that’s it. From that point we, work from there.”
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Haxby said one of the most important changes she made to the document was extending the setback requirement for commercial wind turbines from two times the height of the turbine to one mile from the property line of a nonparticipating landowner, someone who does not have an agreement in place to allow a turbine closer.
County Board member Don Schuller said the setback was too much, and would eradicate any potential wind development in Gage County.
“You just as well forget all this and say we’re not going to allow wind towers in Gage County,” he said.
Haxby responded that turbines can still be close than the one-mile setback if a landowner wants to come to an agreement with a developer.
“This is all about community participation,” she said. “That’s what good-neighbor agreements are there for… For those young kids who buy 10 acres and want to build, there’s no protection for them. None. We hope for the economic growth to bring families here. That’s what we want. If a turbine goes in at two times the total height of the turbine away from that property line, that house goes away.”
The motion to extend the setback to one mile passed 5-2 with board members Schuller and Terry Jurgens voting in opposition.
Planning and Zoning did recommended one mile setback requirements for commercial wind turbines from schools, towns and villages, parks and public churches.
The document Haxby presented on Wednesday included tripling these to three miles in each instance.
Board member Gary Lyle asked what would be left for wind turbines if the setback requirements were approved as Haxby presented.
“Very minimal,” replied Gage County Planning and Zoning administrator Lisa Wiegand.
Motions to extend the setbacks passed for rural churches, schools, towns and villages, while the setbacks regarding parks were left at one mile.
Haxby also added to the document that the total height of a commercial tower, including blades, can not exceed 400 feet. Previous versions of the regulations did not cap the total height. The motion to add a height limit failed to get a motion for a vote.
Pre-construction noise modeling will also be required to include modeling four all four seasons and include “worst-case scenarios” for noise propagation.
Planning and Zoning requested an addition to the regulations that a viewshed study must be conducted from Homestead National Historical Park showing that from any point of the park at 5 ½ feet above ground level no more than ⅓ of a turbine blade at maximum height may be seen.
Gage County’s noise restrictions for commercial wind turbines were previously at 45 decibels during the daytime and 40 at night at the nearest residence of a nonparticipating property, and could increase to 60 during periods of severe weather.
Planning and Zoning recommended lowering these to 40 during the day, 37 at night and 55 during severe storms.
In addition to the lower levels, Haxby suggested lowering the Equivalent Sound Level to 3 decibel maximum for 10 minutes rather than the recommended 5, and also setting a 50 decibel maximum Equivalent Sound Level rather than 55 for participating landowners. That motion failed 3-4.
The Gage County Attorney’s Office is evaluating other proposed changes to the document that will be considered at a future meeting.
Gage County Attorney Roger Harris said due to the number of last minute changes brought up at the meeting, the County Board meeting four weeks away would likely be the earliest the topic will be brought back for discussion.
“I don’t deal well with someone dropping a packet off at a meeting and saying, ‘advise me,’” he said. There are so many things interplaying here. That’s what planning and zoning dealt with, and they did it through several meetings, a lot of input through the public and council, as well as our own council. This isn’t like one or two items.”
The entire document and proposed changes will be available online at Gage County’s website.