Madison County approves updated wind regulations
MADISON — It’s taken about seven months to put the proposed regulations together, so it was not surprising Wednesday that the Madison County board of commissioners spent as much time as necessary listening to testimony and discussing the updated wind energy regulations.
Following all the talk, commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the updated regulations, which are more stringent than the original regulations enacted more than 10 years ago.
In addition, the county’s moratorium on accepting wind farm applications has been allowed to expire.
That means that Madison County is again open for business for possible wind farm construction and operation although, realistically, it isn’t likely there will by any construction for a couple of years — if at all.
That’s because it takes about two years for companies to gather enough data to determine if wind speeds are feasible at a specific site for a wind farm and a purchaser of the power can be obtained.
Among those who spoke in favor of the updated regulations was Josh Moenning, mayor of Norfolk, who said energy generation in the county is a positive thing.
“In the case of wind, we’re not using water resources, it doesn’t pollute and you can farm around it,” Moenning said. “Those are all big advantages, I think.”
Evolving wind energy also makes economic sense. Moenning said he saw a statistic recently that wind energy costs have decreased nearly 70 percent since 2009, making electricity from wind cheaper than coal production in many regions.
The economic benefits also are enormous, such as in Elgin where 20 new jobs were created that pay salaries of $55,000 to $65,000. Northeast Community College also has the only wind energy program in the state, and many of its graduates are in demand, Moenning said.
The county’s new regulations cover a range of items, including setbacks pertaining to non-participating landowners, dwellings, wetlands and public conservation lands.
Heather McWhorter, the county’s zoning administrator, led the discussions at Wednesday’s meeting and presented information on regulations that neighboring counties have in place.
In the end, the county board kept all the regulations in place that the county’s joint planning commission has recommended. The commission had begun addressing the regulations last April and had worked through them periodically through October.
Representing the joint planning commission at Wednesday’s hearing were Stan Schapman and Roger Acklie.
McWhorter noted that the county had received 38 letters against allowing any wind towers in the county.
Among those who participated in the discussion Wednesday was Josh Framel, senior manager of renewable development for Invenergy, which is one of the companies interested in developing wind power in Madison County.
Framel said he thinks the planning commission in general did a good job and its regulations would be acceptable to wind companies.
Joe Smith, Madison County attorney, and Dick Johnson, Madison County road superintendent, also commented on portions of the regulations.
The original regulations approved by the county in 2007-08 only required turbines to be 1,000 feet from a non-participating person’s home. After listening to input in recent months, the commissioners ultimately decided to recommend 2,200 feet for setbacks.
The industry standard is 2,000 to 2,400 feet, so Madison County has split the difference. Participating land owners still must have their houses at least 1,000 feet from the turbines.
Smith raised the issue of possibly putting in some type of regulation relating to sound decibels. But after concerns were raised about who would pay for decibel sound studies and whether it could prompt additional noise complaints over such things as grain bin dryers, irrigation motors and combines running through the night, the commissioners decided against it.
McWhorter said she appreciates all the work that the joint planning commission did to put forth the regulations. They investigated the industry, toured wind turbines and listened carefully to hours of testimony over several months, she said.
“I’m just proud of them,” she said. “I wanted to publicly make sure everyone realizes the amount of work and thought and effort they put into this. What they brought to you was not done lightly.”
The county board also thanked them and McWhorter for her work to coordinate it.
“We have to remember that this is a living document,” said commissioner Ron Schmidt. “We can change it (as we see fit).”
The regulations are listed on the Madison County web site and more regulations can be attached when conditional-use permits are sought for wind farms.