Amendments to Natrona County's wind energy regulations should avoid the disputes between landowners and developers that erupted earlier this year, county Development Department Director Blair Leist said Tuesday.
"We have done what we could to make sure that doesn't happen (again)," Leist said.
The county's development department, planning and zoning commission, and the board of county commissioners will be better able to take a hard look at conditional use permit applications to protect private property rights, he said.
"It gives the board of county commissioners the power to make setbacks even larger," Leist said.
Tuesday, the commission ended a nine-month ordeal of reworking the emergency "wind energy conversion system" regulations adopted in September 2008.
The emergency regulations had some inconsistencies, such as the distance -- a quarter-mile or a half-mile -- a wind tower should be from a property line depending on what zoning governed the land use.
The inconsistencies fueled the indignation of residents of the Sandy Lakes and other subdivisions bordering the property owned by Chevron Global Power Co., which applied for conditional use permits to erect 11 turbines on an 880-acre wind farm northeast of Evansville.
Chevron Global Power met all the requirements when the county commission approved the conditional use permits in February.
But neighbors learned some of the buffers from the towers extended into their property, which could have affected the use of their own land.
A group of neighbors sued the county commission and Chevron Global, asking for a judge to review and reject the conditional use permits. District Court Judge Tom Sullins dismissed the legal action in late June, saying the neighbors waited too long to file their petition.
While the amended regulations won't help those neighbors, they will protect other county residents in the future, Leist said.
The amended regulations do not state a distance -- quarter-mile or half-mile -- from towers and private property boundaries.
But Leist said no wind project site buffer zones will extend over private property boundaries.
The amended regulations, however, require project site boundaries to be set back a distance of not less than one-half mile from boundaries of incorporated municipalities, unless the municipality wants a waiver. The original regulations required a one-mile setback from municipalities.
The amended regulations require wind energy developers to submit good studies about the noise created by turbines, Leist said.
The terms of conditional use permits will apply to future owners and operators of a wind energy project, and provide for decommissioning projects and land reclamation.
He hoped the amended regulations will enable the public to better participate in permitting discussions, he said.
"The more people get involved with the project up front, the more the board [of county commissioners] is going to listen," Leist said.