Jefferson County Commissioners set new wind zoning regulations
JEFFERSON COUNTY, NE — After an over year-long process, Jefferson County has new wind turbine zoning regulations.
Thursday night, county commissioners made their final decisions what regulations to put in place.
"Unfortunately, the three of us are already aware this issue has divided neighbors, it's divided friends and it's divided families," Commissioner Chairman Mark Schoenrock said while addressing the crowd at the start of the meeting. "Please do not let that happen."
Thirty-one people addressed the commissioners before they voted. NextEra Energy representative Matthew Jones told the board the company believes the proposed solutions from the planning and zoning board were too strict.
He says 72 landowner’s have signed on for their proposed Big Blue wind project.
"These families have made a decision to sign up for a wind energy lease to take the opportunity to their families economics and overall their family businesses," Jones. "We're hoping we can have regulations that allows them to do that."
David Henrichs farms near Diller and is part of the Steele Flats wind project. He spoke of financial and environmental benefits of the turbines.
"The thing I never want to do is to stand someday in front of my grandson and have him ask me, 'Grandpa, back when they were talking about climate change and there was a choice to do something and slow it down, what choice did you make? How did you vote?,'" Henrichs said. "None of us are going to want to look our grandkids in the eye and tell them what's coming if we all say, 'Not in my backyard.'"
Several opponents speaking on the issue focused on setbacks and noise limits. Gage County resident Elizabeth Shotkoski-Ferending asked the board to follow in the footsteps of a central Nebraska county.
"Buffalo County, which is where I'm from, right on the edge of it just put a three mile setback to everybody and five miles to communities," she said. "They are protecting their people. Gage [County] has got a good mile. They can pressure you all they want, but look at what's happening in the state of Nebraska right now."
Danielle Schwab said the current sound limit of 50 decibels of a turbines as measured from a non-participants home isn’t enough. Commissioners lowered it to that limit from 60 decibels in March last year.
"From the numerous noise studies done by the World Health Organization and the in-depth study done by the Lincoln-Lancaster Health Department, I think the county should look at adopting a noise regulation of 40 decibels during the day and 37 decibels at night," Schwab said.
Experienced ag pilot Randy Prellwitz discussed the setback’s impacts on crop dusting efforts.
"We can maybe turn around in a half mile, but if there's a windmill or an obstacle on the half mile line I'm not going to try to turn inside of that obstacle," Prellwitz said.
After hearing over an hour of testimony, commissioners made their final votes. For the most part, the three went with the recommendations from the planning and zoning committee. They did make minor tweaks to a couple of the recommendations.
Where they notable strayed away from the proposals brought forth by the planning and zoning committee was on the setback from a non-participating landowner's property line. The committee had brought forth a recommendation of a one-half mile setback. The commissioners instead approved a setback of 2x the height of the turbine system.
With a 575-foot tall tower, that would mean a setback of 1,150 feet. One-half mile is 2,640 feet.
The new setback is stricter than the one that was in place: 1.1x the height of the turbine system, or about 633 feet with a 575-foot tall turbine.
The commissioners did approve a setback of one mile from a non-participating landowner's home, which was proposed by the planning and zoning committee.
There was not much discussion amongst the county commissioners outside of talking about setbacks.
Commissioners also noted they will most likely end the moratorium on applications for permits for wind energy projects during their next regular meeting on March 28. The moratorium is currently slated to expire April 1.
- One mile setback from a non-participating landowner's home (previously 1,320 feet) PASSED 3-0
- 2x the height of the turbine system setback from a non-participating landowner's property line (changed from 600 feet to 1.1x the height of the system in March 2022) PASSED 3-0
- One mile setback from incorporated towns, schools, churches and state and Natural Resource District (NRD) owned recreation areas (new regulation) PASSED 3-0
- No setback between adjoining participating landowners of the same project, but blades of turbines cannot cross over property lines (previously did not include portion on blades crossing property lines) PASSED 3-0
- 1.1x the height of the turbine system setback from a participating landowner's home (no change) PASSED 3-0
- Set shadow flicker limit to 30 hours per year of actual flicker at any non-participating residence (previously addressed as applicant taking "reasonable measures to mitigate specific adverse visual impacts") PASSED 3-0
- Applicant must put $10,000 into escrow to fund investigation of complaints regarding regulation violations. The county will notify applicant if account falls below $5,000 and applicant then has 45 days to replenish amount to $10,000 (new regulation) PASSED 3-0
*Commissioners also voted on new decommissioning requirements. Those will be included here once we have the full text of what was approved as portions were amended before the vote.
APPROVED IN MARCH 2022
- Changing sound level limit of turbine measured from nearest occupied residence from 60 to 50 decibels
- Changing setback requirement of turbines from county road, railway and state highway right of ways from 25 feet from the edge of the rotor blade to 1.1x the height of the turbine system
- Changing night time lighting system from solid red light to one only activated by an aircraft detection lighting system that meets FAA standards
- Changing setback from a non-participating landowner's property line from 600 feet to 1.1x the height of the turbine system (NOTE: this was changed again Thursday night to 2x the height of the turbine system)