County P&Z passes wind energy laws
IOWA CITY- Johnson County’s planning and zoning commissioners have put their faith in wind energy and unanimously passed an ordinance that was partly credited to PNE Wind Energy Greenfield Developer Keith Kurtz.
At a meeting last Monday, the Johnson County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission considered newly developed regulations for wind energy facilities, a response to a proposed PNE wind farm east and south of Solon.
After an overview of the ordinance by Johnson County P&Z staff, Kurtz volunteered to answer questions before the five-member board in a discussion that ranged from property lines and building setback distances to shadow flicker, tower colors, and acceptable noise levels.
If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the chapter will be added to the Johnson County Unified Development Ordinance. The supervisors have scheduled an initial public hearing for Aug. 11 and a visit to Story County’s wind farm and that county’s supervisors on Aug. 1.
While putting together the ordinance, the P&Z staff shared a draft copy with PNE WIND USA, Inc.
PNE, a Chicago company that is part of the German-based PNE WIND AG group, has expressed interest in developing a 3,000-acre, 30-MegaWatt farm near Solon. Thirty-mega-watts can provide power to about 9,000 homes. Local providers are already being lined up to distribute the renewable resource by PNE.
Kurtz said his company was still waiting for environmental test results to determine turbine siting and detailed power numbers; and the company has announced plans to set up an office in Solon where a five-member maintenance crew would support the wind farm.
Kurtz estimated 10 to17 wind energy facilities (WEFs) could go up. WEFs would require an access road and less than one acre of suitable land for each roughly 300-ft. turbine and tower.
Per the ordinance, sound from a turbine would be limited to less than 55 decibels audible at 1,000 feet for non-participating landowners. Fifty-five decibels was likened to the background hum of a refrigerator by Kurtz.
Planning and Zoning Assistant Administrator R.J. Moore said that shadow flicker, which occurs when the sun passes over the blades and resulting shadows fall on non-participating landowners property, was originally going to be limited to 30 hours per year. The language was dropped to allow companies a greater degree of self-regulation. Kurtz and Moore assured the commission members that proper siting would eliminate most shadows for neighboring property owners.
The proposed wind farm could stretch from Morse to north of Solon.
Costs for decommissioning WEFs fall to the company up front; Kurtz said each turbine is expected to have a lifespan of 20-30 years.
The P and Z team looked at other wind power rules to decide setbacks based on height of the turbines and neighbors’ noise levels (for occupied buildings across property lines and 1,000 feet from turbines).
Moore said Johnson County’s amendment contains sections similar to some of Pennsylvania’s code.
Johnson County Supervisors will travel to Story County to visit a wind farm and talk with Story County’s Board of Supervisors on Aug. 1. P&Z Director Rick Dvorak and Moore will join the tour.
Story County Wind Center began operation in October 2008. The facility can produce a total capacity of 150-MegaWatts.
PNE has developed almost 100 wind farms worldwide. The company is currently developing about 30 projects in North America.
PNE sold its first US wind farm earlier this year in Belle Fourche, S.D. They employ over 160 people worldwide and several off-shore wind projects are part of PNE’s portfolio.