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Woodbury County adopts an ordinance to limit wind energy

wind turbine
Michael Leland
/
IPR File
The new ordinance increases the setback distance for wind turbines from 1,250 feet to 2,500 feet.

The potential for wind energy is now severely limited in Woodbury County.

The Woodbury County board of supervisors voted Tuesday to increase the distance necessary between wind turbines and county residents. The setback distance will be increased from 1,250 feet to 2,500 feet — almost entirely eliminating the potential for wind energy in the county.

The board of supervisors voted 3 to 2 to adopt the amended ordinance, siding with the almost 900 residents that signed a petition supporting the change. Supervisor Matthew Ung said he understood their concerns about the potential disruption the turbines could pose to the county.

“Good, bad or indifferent, the nuisance issues with turbines are exacerbated by the population density in Woodbury County, compared to other areas with industrial wind farms that are widespread,” he said. “This is also essentially an irreversible choice."

A Woodbury County resident speaks in favor of changing the setback distance at a board meeting on Tuesday.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
A Woodbury County resident speaks in favor of changing the setback distance at a board meeting on Tuesday.

About 100 residents showed up to the public hearing to support the amended ordinance, citing safety concerns and worries about how the wind turbines’ hum and red blinking lights could impact people.

Anthon resident Sandy Holst said she was concerned by how other landowners who participated in wind farm projects had described their experiences. She, alongside many other county residents, expressed a distrust with the companies constructing wind energy projects.

“When it gets down to it, when it actually happens, it doesn't go like they said, and our land is destroyed. I don't know how you could possibly want to have that,” Holst said.

The vote means MidAmerican Energy’s plan to construct over 90 wind turbines in the county as proposed in their Siouxland Wind Farm Project will no longer be viable. Vice president of resource development Adam Jablonski said the increased setback shrinks the buildable acres in the county from 177 to just 1.7.

He said the success of the company’s wind farm projects across the state should ease safety concerns held by residents.

“The fact of the matter is there's thousands of residents living within a half mile of a turbine, and no safety incidents on our part, thankfully, so far. I think with good reason,” Jablonski said.

He said the company has already invested $1.4 million dollars in the project and claims around 60 landowners have signed onto the project.

Supervisor Justin Wright voted against the measure. Wright said it's unfair to those residents who chose to participate in the wind energy project.

“There's a minority of constituents in Woodbury County that are on the opposing side of the issue,” he said. “But we are still going to strip a right away from a smaller group of Woodbury County taxpayers.”

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, wrote a letter to the county supervisors, opposing the change. The organization said its more than 900 members in Woodbury County want to welcome wind energy as an alternative to the four coal-fired plants in the area.

“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,” the letter reads.

Woodbury county residents raised their hands to show their support of the increased setback distance. The majority of those attending the Tuesday public hearing raised their hand.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Woodbury County residents raised their hands to show their support of the increased setback distance. The majority of those attending the Tuesday public hearing raised their hand.

But, the vast majority of those who showed up to the three public hearings were in support of an increased setback distance. The chairs were almost entirely filled as the final vote was taken on Tuesday.

“I've never seen this many people in the room one time, much less three weeks in a row. It's only grown,” Supervisor Jeremy Taylor said. “And so from that perspective, I believe that we need to in no small part reflect what you all want Woodbury County to look like for years to come.”

The vote in favor of changing the distance was met with applause and celebration by its supporters. Anthon resident Brittni VanderMolen said she believed it was a decision that would impact future generations.

“I hope that today I made my dad proud by coming up here and standing up for Woodbury County farmers,” VanderMolen said.

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.