JEFFERSON COUNTY — Leaders in Jefferson County making some progress on changing zoning requirements for future potential wind projects.

The Jefferson County Commissioners spent over an hour discussing the topic Tuesday in front of a packed court room. Commissioner Mark Schoenrock said he was glad to see all the public interest.

"The gravity of the importance of this decision is apparent to all," Schoenrock said. "It is a decision that will affect thousands of people through multiple generations."

Commissioner Michael Dux said he and the other commissioners have heard public opinions — both in and out of meetings — that range from loosening requirements to barring future wind turbine construction all together.

"My emails from this area and throughout the county were against the project," Dux said. "My phone calls though, the majority of them by far, was to go ahead with the project."

The commissioners did vote on many zoning amendments that would enforce stricter guidelines on wind energy companies hoping to build in the area.

"It is very important whatever decision we make is based on the facts," Schoenrock said. "It's based on the facts and the people being involved in that process."

Changes made include limiting sound from turbines to 50 decibels as heard from the nearest home. The old limit was 60 decibels.

Commissioners also approved changing some setback requirements. Turbines must now be further away from property lines of non-participating land owners of a project. The new limit is 1.1 times the height of the turbine with a blade pointing upward. 

Schoenrock said the estimate they are using as a basis is 575 feet. In that case, a turbine would have to be about 633 feet away from a non-participating property line. The old limit was 600 feet.

The same requirement now applies to county road, railroad and other right-of-ways.

Other proposed setback amendments — like the distance towers must be built from participating and non-participating land owners — were sent back to the planning and zoning committee for further consideration. To give the committee time, commissioners extended the moratorium for applications up to a year until April 2023.

Schoenrock says the time will give them the ability to hear more from the public and to let more information come forward.

"I believe it is vitally important we do not rush to judgement without all important facts and all angles to this being out in the public square for all to see, for all to consider and for all to participate in," Schoenrock said. 

Commissioners voted to grandfather the already-existing Steele Flats wind farm in with the old zoning requirements. 

All zoning changes considered at Tuesday's meeting

Changing sound level of turbine as measured from the nearest primary occupied residence from 60 to 50 decibels - PASSED 2-1 (Dux, Pohlman vote YES - Schoenrock votes NO)

Changing setback of turbines from non-participating land owner's property line from 600 feet to 1.1x the height of the turbine with a rotor pointing upward - PASSED 3-0

Changing setback of turbines from home of non-participating land owner from 1,320 feet to 5x the height of the turbine with a rotor pointing upward - SENT BACK TO PLANNING AND ZONING COMMITTEE 3-0

Changing setback of turbines from home of participating land owner to 1.1x the height of the turbine with a rotor pointing upward - SENT BACK TO PLANNING AND ZONING COMMITTEE 3-0

Implementing no setback requirement on property lines of adjoining landowners participating in the same project - PASSED 3-0

Changing setback requirement of turbines from county road, railway and state highway right-of-ways from 25 feet from the edge of rotor blade to 1.1x the height of the turbine with rotor pointing upward - PASSED 3-0

Limiting impact of shadow flicker to 30 hours-per-year of actual flicker at any non-participating land owner's home - SENT BACK TO PLANNING AND ZONING COMMISSION 3-0

Changing night time lighting system from solid red light to one only activated by an Aircraft Detection Lighting System that meets FAA standards - PASSED 3-0

Changing current decommissioning requirements to having the process handled by the Nebraska Power Review Board - SENT BACK TO PLANNING AND ZONING COMMISSION 3-0

Grandfathering prior approved wind projects to be subject to requirements in place at the time of approval - PASSED 3-0

Extending moratorium on applications for new wind projects for up to one year until April 1, 2023 (can be canceled early if commissioners vote to do so) - PASSED 3-0