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Woodbury County residents push to limit wind farms in the county

The Woodbury County board of supervisors held a public hearing on an ordinance that would limit wind farms in the county. County residents sit listening to the board give their opinions on the proposed amendment.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
The Woodbury County board of supervisors held a public hearing on an ordinance that would limit wind farms in the county. The board voted to move forward with the amendment.

A proposed ordinance could eliminate the potential for wind energy in Woodbury County.

The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to move forward with an ordinance that would severely limit where wind farms can be constructed within the county. The proposed amendment would require wind turbines to be built at least 2,500 feet from county residents.

Last year, the board voted to have a setback distance of 1,250 feet. But, a MidAmerican Energy plan to build upwards of 90 wind turbines has spurred debate about whether that’s far enough.

Alongside many others, Hornick resident Daniel Hair spoke in favor of the increased distance at the public hearing on Tuesday. He said the sight and sound of wind farms would be disruptive to Woodbury County landowners. He said more than 700 residents signed his petition to increase the setback distance.

“I'm a fifth generation farmer and my young son at home who's five is going to be the sixth,” Hair said. “And I'm asking you guys don't destroy this county for my lifetime and his. Money is not everything.”

Other residents expressed concerns about safety, the hum of the wind turbines and how their blinking lights could impact residents in rural Woodbury County.

“Putting up wind turbines, especially close to people's property, fundamentally changes the look and what happens in the county,” said county resident Elizabeth Widman.

Woodbury County residents listen as a MidAmerican Energy engineer presents information on the Siouxland Wind Farm project.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Woodbury County residents listen as a MidAmerican Energy engineer presents information on the Siouxland Wind Farm project.

Representatives from MidAmerican Energy urged county supervisors not to change the zoning ordinance. Vice president of resource development Adam Jablonski said it would effectively eliminate the chance for wind farms to be built in the area.

“If you look at the setback maps, the 2,500 foot setback would effectively allow somebody a half mile away to decide what you can and cannot do with your property,” he said.

If the increased setback distance is adopted, the area available for the wind farm project would decrease from 177 acres to just 1.7 acres. MidAmerican representatives said a setback distance of 1,600 feet would be the maximum workable distance.

The company assured residents that the wind turbine technology was safe. Jablonski also said the organization was working on finding a way to lessen the time that red blinking lights would need to flash on the turbines.

The energy company claims around 60 landowners have already signed on for its Siouxland Wind Farm project – which MidAmerican has invested $1.4 million to date. MidAmerican Energy estimates paying $150 million in county taxes, and paying individual landowners between $76 and $92 million for their participation.

Brenda Holtz was one of few landowners who spoke in opposition to the ordinance change. She says the amendment would take away a landowner’s individual choice.

“If a person works, they own their farm. They have worked hard for it. It should be their decision on what they think is right for them and right for their farm,” she said.

County residents were asked to raise their hand if they favored limiting the construction of wind farms. The majority of the room's hands went up.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
County residents were asked to raise their hand if they favored limiting the construction of wind farms. The majority of hands in the room went up.

The board of supervisors voted 3 to 2 to approve the first reading of the ordinance. Supervisor Matthew Ung expressed his support for the new measure, arguing that Woodbury County is more densely populated than other areas in Iowa that have integrated wind farms.

“The argument of what can you allow a landowner to do is for one generation,” he said. “But introducing turbines is something that represents a permanent change of the culture of the scenery of the quality of life for future generations as well, and does not remain a personal decision for long.”

Chair Keith Radig voted to reject the ordinance change. He said that he does not generally favor zoning regulations, calling them “government tyranny.”

“I do feel like taking a vote on something like this is a foot in the door to future regulations on agriculture in general,” Radig said.

The board will hold two more public hearings, on Aug. 16 and Aug. 23, before the amendment can be approved.

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