New wind, solar ordinances prove hot topic at Pottawattamie County board meeting

Pottawattamie County is debating certain updates to its laws regarding wind and solar energy.
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 6:54 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The fight over wind and solar laws in Pottawattamie County drew a full house at Tuesday morning’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The board is considering updating its rules for wind and solar development. Wind ordinances date back to 2007 and there have never been guidelines for solar. Now, the county is taking steps to add more restrictions and requirements to both.

“It became a pretty in-depth change to our wind ordinance,” said county planning director Matt Wyant.

The focus of Tuesday’s public hearing came down to setbacks or how close a wind turbine can be to property lines and homes.

Wyant explained the main change proposed.

“Our setbacks currently right now are 1000 feet from an occupied dwelling unless that property owner were to sign a waiver on that. You still have to be at least 1 time the height of the tower. The planning commission recommendation on that is to move the setback distance to 1500 feet from a property line and a half mile from a dwelling.”

Many spoke on behalf of RWE, an energy company that is planning a project to build more turbines in the county.

“If the board approves this recommendation, the buildable acres left on the 20,000 acres signed on to the project would result in only 9.3 acres of buildable acres, which is a project killer,” said RWE development manager Matthew Spaccapaniccia.

Wyant said RWE has flown in national support and experts during this new ordinance process. Farmers who signed land lease agreements with RWE for future turbines also showed out at the meeting. They support a proposal put forth by RWE instead where the setback distance would be “no less than 1,650 feet to the closest exterior wall of a non-participating dwelling (like a neighbor) as measured from the center of the wind turbine base.”

MidAmerican Energy, which owns all 120 turbines currently operating in the county, also opposes the county’s proposal.

“We’re opposed to this because this is effectively a prohibition of wind energy further developing in Pottawattamie County,” said William Dougherty with MidAmerican.

Others in the room spoke against the changes, but because they aren’t tough enough.

“Now...the new is better, but I would like to see it more, more of a setback,” said Rosalie Soloth of McClelland.

Critics of the turbines expressed aesthetic and sound concerns.

“We don’t want to listen to that and see it and get it pushed in upon us,” said James Schnoor of Silver City.

While the focus at the meeting was on setbacks, the planning commission’s recommendation includes additional requirements for wind turbines that Wyant said help balance the concerns of those who want the towers and those who don’t.

The county recommendation requires developers to create a road mitigation plan, survey the quality of roads, and ensure the contractor repairs roads. It also requires an agriculture mitigation plan and an additional committee to review applications.

He added another component: the county would require commercial wind turbine developers is a decommissioning plan with financial support to execute it.

Although solar power was a minor point in Tuesday’s meeting, 6 News asked Wyant about some rules for proposed solar developments.

“There’s road mitigation plans; there’s agriculture mitigation plans; there’s weed control plans; there’s site security plans in there; all the things that need to be considered when a large scale solar project is going to be sited,” said Wyant.

The new ordinance requires at least two votes for consideration to become law. Instead of voting on Tuesday, the board of supervisors decided to add an additional public hearing for those who couldn’t attend. That next hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Oakland Community Center.