County approves second wind farm project

Staff writer

Marion County Commission approved a conditional use permit Monday for the proposed Doyle North 2 wind power project west of Florence.

Rex Savage and Windborne Energy had previously received a permit for the Doyle North 1 project in November 2010. Marion County Planning Commission voted Sept. 22 to recommend approval of the new project.

The commission room was filled with people both supporting and opposed to the project. To prevent endlessly rehashing arguments, the commission limited public comments to two minutes per person.

Clifford Hett, supporting the proposal, said projects like building a new jail require money, and the county needs to attract things that will bring in additional money to support those projects.

USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker said a wind farm in the county would provide an educational opportunity that isn’t available everywhere. He said that both as an individual and an educator, he supports the project.

Tom Britain questioned how the project would benefit the county. State law exempts wind turbines from property taxes. In response, Savage pointed out an agreement with the county for payment in lieu of taxes from the first project that would be duplicated with the second project. It specifies that the county, school districts, and other government entities that the project sits within will receive a combined payment of $400,000 for every 100 megawatts of capacity, with no regard to actual production.

Jackie Hett said she is worried about a project causing irreparable harm to the bluestem prairie and pastures of the area.

Nick Peters said he and his wife moved to the area exclusively for the view of the Catlin Creek valley from their home, which will be marred by wind turbines if they are built. He said he is also worried about how many birds will be killed flying into the turbines, and that production of the amount of concrete required for the project will generate more carbon dioxide than would be produced by using coal-generated power rather than wind power.

Savage said he understands Peters’ frustration and concern about his view, but the wind power overlay district in which the project would be was established before Peters bought his home.

Bob Maxwell, who is a member of the Planning Commission but was absent from the Sept. 22 meeting, said he is opposed on the grounds of the amount of federal subsidies given for wind power and the risk of increasing electricity costs.

Savage said the technology for wind energy has advanced rapidly in the past decade, making rates competitive with other sources. In the 2012 federal budget proposal, subsidies for wind energy are a fraction of those for nuclear, biofuels, and solar, he added.

Commission Chairman Roger Fleming said wind energy is an area in which the county can be proactive instead of reactive. All rural counties have to find ways to set themselves apart.

Commissioner Dan Holub said he knows what it is like to have a home’s view changed. In recent years, three cell phone towers were built within sight of his home, and at first, the blinking lights irritated him. He said he scarcely notices them now.

Holub said the root of the nation’s wealth is in its natural resources: farming, mining, and forests. He said he views wind energy as another kind of natural resource, and he is confident wind power will not need subsidies indefinitely.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said he supported development of wind energy in the county. He recently made a trip to Wyoming, and on the trip he saw the effects of strip-mining for coal.

Holub made a motion to approve the permit for Windborne Energy, and Dallke seconded the motion. The permit was approved unanimously.

 

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