Joint planning commission

FOR THE FIFTH consecutive monthly meeting, the Madison County Joint Planning Commission had people sitting in the hall and standing on Thursday. While Thursday’s meeting featured a long agenda, the majority of people who spoke discussed wind energy regulations.

John Dittrich of rural Meadow Grove knows a little bit about wind energy.

Dittrich farms with his brother, Keith, and they have a turbine on their land in Antelope County in the Prairie Breeze wind farm, as well as a mile of transmission line that serves that project.

They also have taken the time to read up about and study wind energy. They have been among the numerous individuals giving suggestions to the Madison County board of commissioners as they consider revisions to existing wind energy regulations in the county.

On Thursday evening, the commission conducted a public hearing and listened as contrasting points of view were provided on wind energy from the likes of the Ditrichs and others.

One of the wind-related topics that draws the most widespread opinions is setbacks — how far turbines must be located from such things as houses.

The Dittrichs said they believe about 2,000 to 2,200 feet is the right distance for setbacks from residences because it provides enough room for companies to get turbines located in order to make a wind farm a reality, while also providing enough room for residents who don’t support them so they don’t have to be bothered by them.

Bruce Staub of rural Tilden, who lives on the western edge of Madison County, disagrees.

Staub said he thinks wind turbines “ruin the landscape” and create lots of noise. He said he thinks turbines should be at least one mile — or 5,280 feet — from any house.

But the Dittrichs and others have said that a mile setback would be almost impossible for any company to find enough locations for turbines to make a project work.

Then there’s still another view — people who think turbines should have minimal setbacks.

John Framel of Invenergy, which previously has worked with other counties on wind energy regulations by providing industry standards, said he would suggest all setbacks at 1,200 feet.

It has been with these types of contrasting options that the Madison County Joint Planning Commission has been putting together its revised wind energy regulations.

And they’re still not ready to proceed. Following more than an hour’s worth of testimony on Thursday from 10 people, the joint planning commission voted to postpone discussions until October.

That meeting likely will be on Thursday, Oct. 18, although it could be changed because several of the commissioners are farmers. That will be peak harvesting time.

Commissioners said they will limit public testimony to five minutes at future meetings. In addition, they will ask that people not testify information that already has been provided.

That’s because, at this point, it appears commissioners have become overwhelmed with information. They have been working on the regulations for six months and also visited a wind farm.

They have read over Pierce County’s regulations, from which Madison County has based its revised rules.

The county’s moratorium on accepting wind farm applications is set to expire Oct. 3, but Heather McWhorter, the county’s zoning administrator, said the deadline can be extended. It would be up to the Madison County board of commissioners to extend the moratorium.

The joint planning commission kicked off the review in April and has been receiving input since then, including at Thursday’s meeting.

The county’s revised wind energy regulations — as currently proposed — can be found on the county’s web site. The setback regulations from a house currently are at 2,700 feet for a non-participating landowner, which is based on what Pierce County had established.

McWhorter told commissioners it is important to remember there are some things the county cannot regulate. Those include agreements between the landowner and the wind energy company, stipends or lighting on top the turbines because that is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

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