More than 50 citizens attended a special public hearing Wednesday night to express support or opposition to wind energy as Gage County officials prepare to revamp regulations.
The County Board held a special hearing to gather input on proposed wind energy regulations, which will be considered at its next meeting.
At Wednesday’s meeting, which neared five hours long, 35 people addressed the County Board. Of those, 23 were strongly in favor of greater restrictions for commercial wind energy turbines being built in Gage County.
“When it’s all said and done and the suits are all gone and the pockets will be lined, where does that leave us?” asked JoJen Allder of rural Cortland. “We’ll be surrounded by these noisy, ugly turbines with lower property rights and health issues. I want to be able to live and retire in my home, work in the garden, fish in the pond and gaze at the stars.”
A proposed draft of wind regulations was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in February.
Part of the commission’s recommendations was a noise limit of 60 decibels for participating properties and 47 for nonparticipating properties.
Participating properties are those under an agreement with a wind energy system company, while nonparticipating properties are those that are not under an agreement.
The decibel limit for nonparticipating properties has been the most contested aspect of the regulations, and neighbors of wind farms expressed concerns that noise levels would disrupt the daily lives of them and their children.
Concerns that wind turbines would decrease rural property values were also expressed.
Other noise levels considered were 45 and 50 decibels for nonparticipating properties.
The 47-decibel limit also allows for an additional 5 decibels at certain times to account for ambient sound.
Other highlights of the regulations include a pre-construction study and setback requirements of 1,650 feet or three times the total tower height, whichever is greater, from a nonparticipating property.
The complete document of proposed regulations can be found on Gage County’s website.
Decibel levels and setback requirements have been heated issues for months as the commission reevaluated the county’s wind regulations, which haven’t been changed since they were adopted in 2010.
Paul Meints, a home contractor in the Cortland area, said sales have halted with the news of a potential wind farm in the area, and added property values would go down if commercial wind energy comes to Gage County.
“Turbines too close to homes would hurt property values,” he said. “We have not sold any lots in our acreages since the news has come out. They’ve had interest in our lots, but when we tell them we are possibly in the turbine footprint they’re not interested anymore.”
While the majority who spoke at the meeting expressed concerns or outright opposition regarding wind energy, County Board member Erich Tiemann indicated sometimes groups have to take a chance on new technology.
“I don’t ride a horse to work; I bought a pickup,” he said. “Each time you get one it’s a better one and a newer one. That’s something to keep in mind. I’m not promoting this at all; I’m on the fence like I think all of us are, but you have to dip your toes in the water sometimes and try it.”
Many who spoke in favor of more strict regulations cited potential health issues from the noise of wind turbines even with a 47-decibel limit.
A.J. Kurtzer, who lives in Cortland and is a member of Cortland Fire and Rescue, brought poster-size collages of families in the area that would be impacted by wind turbines if lenient restrictions are approved.
She said health risks from the noise, especially for children, should be a deciding factor in the regulations.
“I want the Gage County supervisors to protect our citizens just as I serve to try and protect as a volunteer,” she said. “Our family’s health is the most important thing. There is no amount of money worth our health. I don’t have years for studies to come about to prove or disprove that heath can be a consequence of these wind turbines.”
Larry Oltman, who lives north of Cortland, spoke in favor of more lenient regulations that would allow wind-energy developments, saying turbines in Iowa and the Steele Flats wind farm in southern Gage County haven’t caused health issues.
“We don’t see a mass amount of people being sick in Iowa,” he said. “We talked this last fall at a meeting and I asked specifically if there was any formal complaints or illnesses, or if the taxes of these valuations on properties went down because of that wind farm down in southern Gage County. There was a ‘no’ response, zero. I ask that you be equal in Gage County planning from one end to the other.”
Gage County’s current regulations were adopted in 2010 and limited turbine noise to 60 decibels. The Steele Flats wind farm was constructed under these guidelines and will be exempt from new regulations with additional restrictions.
The discussions were prompted by a proposal from Volkswind USA last September for a wind farm.
Plans for the proposed wind farm – which would be primarily in Lancaster County but occupy around 4,000 acres in Gage County – were put on hold as both counties addressed concerns regarding wind turbines.
Last November, Lancaster County approved regulations to establish noise limits of 40 decibels in the day and 37 at night for wind turbines, as measured from nearby dwellings.
The next regular County Board meeting is Wednesday, March 30, at 8:45 a.m. on the second floor of the Gage County Courthouse.