Zoning Committee addresses wind turbine setbacks

Even with the harvest season in full swing, Zoning Committee members Wade Mitchell (left) and Doug Dvorak (right) showed up for last Monday's meeting ready to dig into their research and share what they've discovered with the public. PHOTO BY VANESSA ROUDABUSH

On Monday, Oct. 10, the Tama County Zoning Committee met for the second time to discuss the county’s Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) ordinance. Unfortunately, with only two members present, Doug Dvorak and Wade Mitchell, the number needed to complete the quorum was unmet, and the Committee took no official action. Instead, the two teamed up to review and plan recommendations for restructuring Tama’s WECS Ordinance.

Setbacks were the main discussion of the night.

The Committee discussed distances concerning adjacent property lines, clarifying the height to include the blade fully extended and the distance from adjacent property lines is to be the greater of 1.25 times the height or manufacturer’s recommendation of setback. They later addressed re-powering upgrade guidelines.

The Committee briefly discussed setbacks on building site property lines greater than 1,600 feet or 3.75 times the total height or manufacturer’s safety distance. Dvorak referenced Grundy’s policy on building site property lines and asked the public if they agreed with the increase to 5 times.

“Grundy has five times the total height, including the blade, and they were figuring around 628 feet total height with a 500-foot tower and 120-foot of the blade, times five 3,140 feet [setback] from any residence, approximately 6/10 of a mile,” Dvorak said.

Mitchell agreed with the Grundy ordinance.

“This does protect the people who aren’t participating,” he said.

The public asked for clarification about livestock, requesting the wording of the ordinance be changed from livestock confinements to livestock facilities, as not all livestock operations in Tama County have confinements, but also to consider grazing pastures. The Committee agreed to the recommendation and will continue researching the subject and addressing the potential future use of lands.

Mitchell pointed out that the manufacturer’s safety distance should be included in all setbacks.

When talking about utility lines and railroads, the Committee noted other counties’ ordinances of 600 feet or one times the height or the manufacturer’s recommendation, whichever of the three is greater, as the setbacks for wind turbines near these areas. Mitchell also suggested mandatory shutdowns to prevent ice throws from damaging power lines.

The Committee reviewed and criticized the half-mile setback from public recreational areas compared to the one-mile setback for public conservation areas by other counties and the lack of addressing camping areas. As a result, the Committee opted to recommend an increase of all these setbacks to one mile, along with adding half-mile setbacks for significant bodies of water with woodland and grassland areas that don’t fall under public conservation areas.

The Committee will reach out to conservation representatives, NRCS, Tama County Conservation, and Iowa DNR for recommendations on these area setbacks.

The public asked the Committee how regulations and complaints will be handled regarding wind turbines when the ordinance is violated. The Committee has tabled this discussion until a conversation with the attorney, as these are legal issues and need to be handled as such.

Other concerns addressed to the board were total wind turbine height limitations, project size permissions, conditional use permit expirations, compliance, and the transferability of permits after turbines are decommissioned. All of these will be thoroughly researched and later discussed by the Committee.

Mitchell assured the public, “[We’ll] try to make something here that will work and has a chance of getting through.”