ALGONA | Despite, at times angry opinions during a public hearing, the Kossuth County Board of Supervisors passed the first reading of an ordinance that will regulate the construction and operation of commercial wind energy conversions systems.
The Board of Supervisors passed the second reading March 14. Both votes were 4-1 with Supervisor Don Besch voting no in each vote.
He said on Friday that there were several reasons for his decision including drainage, noise, loss of GPS systems and the way the turbines are taxed.
Besch said farmers have voiced opinions about wind turbines and the disruption they will cause drainage tiles. “If you don’t have drainage in Kossuth County, you don’t have a farm that is going to be productive,” he said during a phone interview March 17.
He also stressed his concern about tax credits for the wind energy companies. Besch said that the wind energy companies are receiving a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the cost of construction.
Besch also discussed the production tax credit, which would provide savings of 2.3 cents per kilowatt. “Industry standards for a 2 megawatt turbine producing an average of 6 million kilowatts per year is $150,000 per year per turbine,” he said. “If there are 250 turbines, that means $37.5 million of tax credits if putting out 6 million kilowatts per year.
“These are big numbers and they are getting big breaks from the federal government. The big rush is the federal government is putting an end to these tax credits soon,” Besch said. “My feeling is the wind energy companies are getting big tax credits. Do they need more breaks at the county level?”
He questioned how the county is going to spend the money. “It should be somewhere in the ordinance,” he said. “That is a big issue. I’m shocked that question isn’t asked more at these meetings.”
He also asked to put in the ordinance for farmers to be reimbursed if there are problems with drainage issues. That wasn’t included.
Besch was not alone in concerns with the wind conversion system ordinance adopted. At a public hearing at the first reading March 7, concerns were expressed about setback requirements, impact on property values, quality of life issues and making compromises for wind energy companies, but not property owners.
Joe Goche sent an email to the Board of Supervisors with different concerns. One dealt with the setbacks. His suggestion was to make all setbacks 1,600 feet and use the variance provisions to adjust.
“This will allow neighbors that do not want the systems a good separation distance and those that want the WECs the ability to develop with other likeminded neighbors to work together to minimize the footprint of the WECs project,” he said in the email.
He also suggested striking two paragraphs out of the ordinance. One deals with making sure that no changes are made once after a deal is completed. The second deals with making sure the ordinance protects citizens, property rights and values.
“A WECs company or any other company should not be allowed to change any ordinance without proper public notice,” he stated in the email. “The company should have to comply with the ordinances in place at the time of permit issuance. If the company cannot do this, it should relocate or adjust its construction plans to accommodate current ordinances that are in place to protect citizens and property rights and values.”
During the actual public hearing, Mick Schlievert, who lives at Oak Lake, said he hopes that the Board of Supervisors looked at both sides of the issue. “For those who build the windmills, it is going to be a positive windfall for them,” he said. “Have you considered the quality of life for the people who are going to live around these?”
He also asked if the Board of Supervisors had considered property and acreage owners. “(We) build out at Oak Lake for a quality of life,” Schlievert said. “It is an agricultural area. It is not an industrial area. These windmills are an industrial business.”
Supervisor Jack Plathe said he believed the Board of Supervisors addressed the people who don’t want the wind turbines by writing this ordinance and working as hard as they did for the last six months. “We looked at all of these issues,” he said. “There are some counties that don’t have any ordinances. Should this Board turn up their nose to that and say, ‘yeah, we’ll take the easy road’ and just not write an ordinance. These things would have come up anyway.”
Dennis Meyer referenced comments that were made in an article about the decision being about the money that will come into the county coffers. “You have given into the wind energy companies and allowed them to tell the county what works for them,” he said. “You have taken it totally out of the farmers and the property owners that are going to live around them. You also said you are doing what’s best for the majority of the county with no regard to adjacent landowners.”
Eric Briones, project developer for Amshore US Wind LLC, said the ordinance is the most stringent one in Iowa. “I think a lot of the concerns are misconceptions on how the industry is actually run, how the units operate,” he said.
Brady Evans, with MidAmerican Energy, referred to a national study that relates to home and property values. The study went across 27 counties around the nation including some in northern Minnesota and Iowa comparing home values prior to construction and after construction.
“There is no correlation according to that national study that has any impact on house values,” he said.
Evans was asked who funded the study. He didn’t know who funded the study.