Commission still at odds on wind farm debate

The Marion County Commissioners spoke about the future of wind farms at its July 15 meeting.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said he particularly wanted to discuss some of the concerns he had and asked the other commissioners for their input.

“With all the steps and procedures we have set up in Marion County, there’s been enough said on the opposite side of this (wind farm) issue that it was first brought up to bring the (Expedition Wind farm project) to a vote,” Dallke said. “I came in and talked to (Tina Spencer, county clerk), and the advisory vote is not something we can just do because it’s a separate thing.”

Dallke said there are different ways to look at the future of wind development in the county, but one of the best ways he believes to do that is by sending it back to the planning and zoning board and see what can be done.

“Maybe this department could ask for a ballot or something to that effect,” he said.

For those who have their side of the story, Dallke said, and if those types of concerns continue, then the county needs to start right now on what we want to see for the future. It’s the reason, he said, for this being placed on the agenda.

“I heard quite a few people say they wanted the issue put to an advisory vote,” he said. “But, I do think there is enough concern seeing we already have (wind farm) contracts on the west side of the county, and maybe, later on, there could be another project tying into the current one (through Expedition Wind).”

Having heard from constituents, Dallke asked the other commissioners: “What if the next wind farm project has more or an equal amount of naysayers? How do we, as commissioners, handle both sides of the (wind farm) story and give direction?”

Dallke said he sees a need to look at some issues related to these wind farm projects, noting that if another group goes further south, there are a lot more people with farms.

“I want to open this up,” he said. “Is there a need to look at this? I think there is.”

Commissioner Dianne Novak said she’s not sure how other wind farm projects could be stopped because the precedent has already been set.

“I think it’s too little too late,” she said, “and the county is in quite a pickle. I’m just not sure how we could stop a third (wind farm) coming in.”

Novak cited McPherson County and the lawsuit by Next Era Energy, and it looks like (the county) followed everything to the letter.

Citizens in and around Tampa have not said anything bad about the wind farm, Dallke said, when he spoke with about 10 to 20 people there.

“What’s your opinion, Kent (Becker)” Dallke asked.

Commission chairman Kent Becker said they should trust the people who put together a comprehensive plan for this county.

“I trust the people who worked on that who spent lots of hours on it. I have to trust what they have done,” he said.

“The policies and procedures have been followed,” Becker added. “Is it perfect? No, nothing is.”

Novak asked why Becker overlooked the people’s request for a vote (in the south-central part of the county)?

Becker responded that he wondered why the county has a planning and zoning department.

Dallke said he just wondered about the next four, five, six or 10 years in the future, and what if the county says “enough is enough,” it could be the comprehensive plan might change again.

Mary Crabb, who lives three miles south of Aulne, said that to look to the future, everyone needs to look at the past and what we have done in the past.

Dallke asked Crabb if she wanted to look to the future or complain about the past?.

To look to the future, Crabb said, we all need to look at the past and what we have done in the past.

In addition, she inquired about a power purchase agreement, or PPA, which is a contract between an electricity generator and a power purchaser, and statutes regarding written responses as to why planning commission members voted the way they did. 

Regarding the PPA, she said there were regulations about this, but in Tampa and Dickinson County, it was said that no one should build wind turbines without a PPA. 

As for the reasons why members voted, Crabb said that by state statute, they must have the individual planning and zoning members reasons for voting the way they did.

“We had one written answer (prior to the final decision), and one written answer that night,” she said citing the county is moving too fast.

“You are rushing through this, and like (Dallke) said, we are all going toward that almighty dollar. How fast will we get to it?” Crabb asked.

As clarification, Spencer asked if the board is in favor of having the planning and zoning commission look at the regulations before any future projects are in place.

Dallke said: “It is my opinion that if there’s enough problems out here that people want something looked at in the future—that’s why I am trying to bring it up.”

“Why didn’t you want to bring this up a couple of months ago?” Novak asked.

Dallke said because the rules were followed at that time, but Novak disagreed.

Loewen said a moratorium could have been legal regarding the wind project with Expedition Wind.

“The future is the future for us to look at, and the future was looked at a long time ago when farms were looked at. The planning commission came up with the rules and the commission followed them to the best of their ability,” Dallke said.

Novak said there were so many inconsistencies in the regulations, and she didn’t agree (with Dallke).

Sharon Omstead, director of planning and zoning, said If the board would like the planning and zoning commission to take a look at the regulations and possibly some restriction on future wind development, then I will need direction.

“Thank you Kent, and thank you Dianne for your opinion, maybe I don’t agree with it, but I thank you for it,” Dallke said.

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