With wind farm expansion proposed, Campbell County mulls planning, zoning ordinances

Shannon Marvel smarvel@aberdeennews.com
Farm Forum

A proposed wind farm expansion in Campbell County has prompted local officials to consider adopting temporary planning and zoning controls.

A “large delegation” of residents voiced their concerns over the proposed 39-turbine expansion of the existing 55-turbine wind farm owned by ConEdison, according to the July 6 Campbell County Commission meeting minutes.

The residents discussed possible health issues, noise and setback distances of the towers during the commission meeting.

“ConEdison is in the process of getting landowners to sign contracts for possible wind tower development. At this time there is not a definite layout of the towers’ locations due to not having all the land contracts completed, and studies will need to be conducted on the area of the tower sites to determine viable locations,” the minutes note.

A spokeswoman for ConEdison declined to comment on the expansion, and representatives from the company were unable to attend the commission meeting.

Commission Chairman Scott Rau said the county is looking at passing a temporary zoning ordinance.

“We want to have the ability to set our own boundaries. We have to start somewhere,” he said.

Commissioners approved a $5,000 contract with the Northeast Council of Governments during the July 6 meeting to prepare zoning and ordinance regulations that have yet to be implemented.

“The zoning ordinance isn’t just wind-oriented. Say a turkey farm comes in or something else. We want to have zoning ordinances in place so they can’t just put it wherever they want to. We have no regulations at all,” Rau said.

State Rep. Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, was at the meeting to explain the options the county has.

“An important thing to take away from it, the commissioners weren’t for the wind farm or against it. They were trying to get the feel for what the community wanted and what the public thought. There was a substantial amount of residents from Campbell County who were there because they were concerned about what little information they had about what was going on” Gosch said.

“They were concerned with whether cooperation was being done with the residents. Some were there because they were concerned with the setbacks. That’s where I got involved. I helped provide them information on certain statutes. They have the authority and the right to propose a temporary zoning ordinance. They have to make a good faith effort to replace it with a permanent zoning ordinance.”

A temporary zoning ordinance would allow the commission to set zoning control for a year. It could be renewed for a second year.

There are some state regulations for counties that don’t have their own controls in place, though counties can set additional requirements.

Small wind farm setbacks are 1.1 times the height of the tower from any surrounding property lines. A small wind farm is defined as a system with one or more wind turbines that are less than 75 feet tall, according to state law.

For large wind farms, state law requires a setback of at least 500 feet or 1.1 times the height of the tower from any surrounding property line, whichever distance is greater. A large wind farm is defined as any system with one or more turbines exceeding a height of 75 feet.

In both instances, the setback can be less if the wind tower owner has an agreement with the adjacent landowner.

Rau said the commission would welcome public input at a hearing set for 9 a.m. on July 26 at the Campbell County Courthouse in Mound City.

Spink County is also working on updating its zoning ordinances, specifically for wind towers.

Commission Chairman Dave Albrecht said commissioners feel that wind energy companies might be more inclined to build a wind farm in a county that has zoning ordinances.

“We don’t have one currently. We’re thinking that if a company is interested in Spink County, they’d be more interested if we had a policy dealing with ordinances … We looked at several other counties and we’re kind of picking and choosing what we like best,” he said.

According to Spink County Planning and Zoning Director Jamie Wagner-Lutter, the idea to craft wind farm ordinances was not sparked by proposed development in the county.

“At this time, we haven’t heard anything about any possible projects coming to the county,” Wagner-Lutter said.

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