County supervisor pushes for tougher Gage County wind farm rules

BEATRICE- Several votes on tougher wind energy regulations by the Gage County Board Wednesday, may make it nearly impossible for a wind energy developer to propose a wind farm in the northern part of the county.

Supervisor Emily Haxby proposed several changes to draft recommendations sent to the board recently by the county’s planning and zoning commission. Among those, setting wind-tower setbacks from non-participating entities at one mile from the property line, and setting a three-mile setbacks from villages, churches or schools.  A one-mile setback was recommended from any federal, state and local recreation areas.

Haxby, who represents constituents in northern Gage County opposed to wind development, handed out a list of the changes she would like to see adopted, and the board discussed them for over three hours.

"I worked on this document that I'm passing around probably for way too many hours, now. It was some changes that were clerical, consistency changes or to better protect the health, safety and welfare of our constituents, as well as the economic future of our county."

The board rejected some moves to make the regulations more stringent, but approved others that will be referred to the county attorney’s office for review. A new draft would then come back to the board, for final approval at a future meeting. Board member Gary Lytle spoke in support of legal counsel review.

"I'm not real comfortable on voting to amend this, include any of this, without legal counsel's answer as to what ramifications this creates by doing putting this in there. I don't see that it would be an issue, but there's unintended consequences sometimes and I want to know if there is some, before we do something."

The county’s planning commission worked for several months studying wind regulations, including recommending a one-mile setback in an amendment sought by wind farm opponents, which ultimately was approved by county supervisors. Haxby saw as a key provision, making the one-mile setback from the property line, not a residence.

"I think this is the most important one in this entire packet. It's trespass zoning in that concept where property A turbine can affect what you can do on property B."

Supervisor Don Schuller says the one-mile restriction from property line means no wind development is likely.  "If its a mile from a property line, you'd have to have a landowner who owns four sections and be able to put that tower in the center of those four sections.....not a quarter, a section. You just as well might eliminate....or forget all this and say we're not going to allow wind towers in Gage County."

Schuller favors treating south and north areas of the county different, in the regulations…..based on population density and support for wind development. Lytle and Planning Commission Administrator Lisa Wiegand had a dialogue about the effect of three-mile setbacks proposed in some of the changes.

(Lytle).."What type of area does that leave in Gage County available for any type of a project?...(Wiegand).."Very minimal. I'd have to map it out again. Three miles does take a considerable chunk out of there. And, looking at the map it also takes a large percentage of landowners that have wind easements already on file, some of those since 2010."

County planning commission recommendations for a turbine noise limit of 40 decibels in the daytime, and 37 at night, remain in place for now…with no change in regulating low-frequency noise.  The changes discussed on Wednesday along with planning commission recommendations, were referred to the county attorney’s office for review, on a 5-2 vote.