LINCOLN, Neb. -- Lancaster County now has new restrictions regarding wind farms and potential wind energy projects. The Lancaster County Board voted 3-2 for more restrictive regulations on Tuesday.
Volkswind, a German Independent Power Producer, is attempting to build more than fifty wind turbines in Southeastern Lancaster and Gage County.
Lancaster County Commissioner Deb Shorr says the new restrictions come after several months of discussions.
The big change has to do with the noise of the wind turbines. The board voted to require 40 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and drop down to 37 from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. requiring the turbines to be quieter at night.
"We heard testimony from Volkswind that these requirements would make it extremely restrictive to go forward with doing a project in Lancaster County," said Shorr.
Volkswind released this statement to 1011 News: "We are disappointed. We came to Nebraska to invest in its clean energy future. There's a tremendous opportunity to inject clean power near the Sheldon Station. Locations with sufficient transmission, low wildlife impacts and supportive landowners are not easy to find (it is not a simple matter to relocate). We have worked in good faith with the civic leaders in both of our projects in Lancaster, Gage and Jefferson Counties."
The Lancaster County Commissioners worked with two Lincoln-Lancaster Agencies, the Planning Department worked with the setback and zoning issues. While the Health Department worked on the health concerns, specifically dealing with the elderly and people with special needs.
A Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Report from the August 2015 Planning Commission Meeting Stated:
Large commercial wind turbine projects have successfully located in other counties in Nebraska. However, the land use characteristics in Lancaster County are not like most other counties in Nebraska. There is significant residential development on smaller lots scattered throughout Lancaster County. In addition, wind turbines which are generally less than 275 in height in other counties, now could range up from 400 to 500 feet or more in height. So while wind energy is a worthy goal, the impact on adjacent properties could be substantial.
In a series of meetings with a Working Group, the Lincoln/ Lancaster County Planning Department and Lancaster County Health Department hosted, the staff worked to revise the current regulations regarding Commercial Wind Energy Projects. The group had 12 people with different backgrounds and interests. It also included 8 people from Gage County. According to the Wind Energy Text Amendment Working Group: "The goal of the Working Group process was to develop a text amendment that permits commercial wind energy projects provided there is adequate protection of adjacent property owners and residents."
The Lancaster County Health Department Proposed the Following Restrictions for Noise:
(I) Noise: No CWECS or combination of CWECS turbine(s) shall be located as to cause an exceedance of the following as measured at the closest exterior wall of any dwelling located on the property. If a turbine violates a noise standard on a dwelling unit, constructed after the turbine is approved, then the turbine becomes a non-conforming use.For both participating and nonparticipating properties:
(1) From the hours of 7 am to 10 pm:
* Forty (40) dBA maximum 10 minute Leq or;
* Three (3) dBA maximum 10 minute
(2) From the hours of 10 pm to 7 am:
* Thirty-seven (37) dBA maximum 10 minute Leq
Volkswind responded: The Health Department's proposed limits are not consistent with City of Lincoln's own Noise Control Ordinance for its ag zone (wind energy should not be singled out from any other commercial activity, there are no proven adverse health impacts from wind turbine noise, it is not "unique" from other sources.
Volkswind goes on to say, "Consider for example ocean front residences, among the most highly valued properties, where "natural" wave action produces sound pressures far exceeding wind turbine noise at 1,000 feet. In a prairie setting, sound of wind on home structure itself generally far exceeds any sound detected from a wind turbine 1,000 feet away."
Volkswind: By far the most extreme limits in Nebraska and in any other state we have seen City of Lincoln's own Noise Control Ordinance for its ag zone specifies:
6am to 10pm -75 dBA
10pm to 6am -50 dBA
Cindy Chapman who lives near Cortland in Lancaster County said Tuesday's vote on the new restrictions makes her feel relieved. "We've fought for over a year now to get safe wind energy regulations in this county, it's a relief to finally have it finished." Chapman said starting off she was mainly concerned about the value of her property with the turbines being placed too closely to her home.
"After doing more research from people who lived close to the turbines, we became concerned about the health effects, mostly the nighttime levels," said Chapman. During a stay with family in Minnesota who lives near hundreds of wind turbines, Chapman said the noise from the wind farm bothered her. "There is nothing you can compare it to, people need to experience it before they know how the residents in this area felt."
Chapman is part of the group Stop Hallam Wind. On the group's website it states, now they are in the process of updating zoning in Gage County. Stop Hallam Wind is a grass roots organization that represents hundreds of southern Lancaster and northwestern Gage County taxpayers, voters and families. "We believe wind facilities can be safely located in much less populated areas," Stop Hallam Wind.
Lancaster County Commissioner Deb Shorr said "I think there is still a possibility here in the southeastern part of Nebraska, I'm just not sure if this particular area of Lancaster County is the best fit."