May 18, 2024

Supervisors hold meeting on wind turbines

The Clarke County Board of Supervisors held a public meeting Monday evening for the discussion of wind turbines.

The purpose of the meeting was to receive feedback and questions from the public about the possibility of allowing wind turbines in rural Clarke County, as well as inform them of the situation regarding turbines. Also on hand to help answer questions were Clarke County Engineer David Carroll and Clarke County Zoning Administrator Rob McCaulley.

Background

Supervisor Dean Robins said in 2018, the supervisors were approached by RPM Access, a small company located in DeSoto that puts together wind turbine farms and then sells them to electrical companies.

The supervisors at the time looked into the ordinances and after more discussions with RPM found that they were not interested in building any turbine farms. An ordinance about wind energy was adopted on July 28, 2018, and can be found in Chapter 32 of Clarke County ordinances.

The ordinance adopted a tax limit that can be assessed on wind turbines, as well as increasing the allowable tower height.

In June, the supervisors approved 2-0 a resolution for a temporary moratorium on the construction of wind turbines in the unincorporated areas of Clarke County with supervisor Austin Taylor abstaining from the vote.

An electrical transmission line was upgraded from Madison County into Osceola and a grid was updated north of Murray, at which point Robins made a phone call to RPM, who informed Robins that they were coming and planned to in the area in 2024. By placing a temporary moratorium, the supervisors were allowed time to ensure that all county interests were covered including setbacks, zoning, potential teardown and other concerns.

“We’re at an advantage…several other counties around us that have already been here and are changing their ordinances as they’re going along,” said Robins.

There are no wind turbines in Clarke County.

Counties close to Clarke that do have wind turbines include Union, Adams and Adair. The wind turbines in question would likely be placed north of Murray near the substation, though an exact map has not been given to the supervisors. It is estimated 12 to 16 would be placed, which can be up to 720 feet in height.

“One of the advantages we have at this particular time is there is quite a bit of history on them and we know if we don’t do anything, we’re asking for trouble,” said supervisor Randy Dunbar.

He noted the potential income for the county, but also recognized downsides of allowing them to be built.

Taylor said he shared a lot of the same concerns he was hearing from people in the community.

“My concerns are [the] same concerns that you guys have…You hear about fires that occur in ‘em, some people say they’re not green cause they use oil for the gears…roads, when they come in, concerns about roads. We want to make sure our roads are taken care of if this is to occur,” said Taylor

Taylor added the supervisors can’t have oversight on the contracts that are presented to landowners, and they want to make sure the people are protected from something that could come back to harm them later.

Public comments

After sharing their opening thoughts, the supervisors opened the discussion to anyone in attendance who wished to speak.

Several spoke on how the presence of wind turbines disrupts the natural beauty of Southern Iowa, and the potential harmful impact to the environment.

For those who live near where wind turbines are already visible from

their property, they don’t want to see any additional.

“You’ll never see a sunrise or a sunset without working at a turbine once they get here…once we put them in, it changes the whole scheme of it,” was one comment.

Many pointed out that the companies who put the turbines in do not care about the neighboring properties who have to look at them, saying,

“If you’re a landowner you want to take advantage of it, you take advantage of it…you have neighbors. It’s like the hog factories…Some of the neighbors are opposed to it, some of them it won’t bother.”

On the subject of tax revenue from the turbines, the turbines would be taxed on the TIF (tax increment financing) schedule, which breaks down as:

Assessment Year 1 = 0% of net acquisition cost

Year 2 = 5%

Year 3 = 10%

Year 4 = 15%

Year 5 = 20%

Year 6 = 25%

Year 7 = 30%

Years after the 7th year = 30%

(found in Sec. 5 of Chap. 32 Clarke County Ordinances)

On a $1 million dollar farm, after seven years the county could generate about $300,000 total (based on current estimates). Robins said the tax revenue wouldn’t make or break the county but it would help, and would likely go towards secondary roads. Talk of lack of jobs created from the turbines and concerns of what happens if government subsidies go away were brought up. If a turbine is decommissioned, the landowner will be responsible for the taxes on the turbine.

“You’re gonna get a lot of money from the towers for taxes, but building a $400,000 house, you put people in it, they’re here to stay,” said one in attendance.

“I understand the tax revenue would be nice, but I think…you gotta be very careful…some of these counties and that’s all you see,” said another.

A comment was made that wind turbines should be taxed at 100%, and that property taxes of the land should also be changed accordingly.

“We’re not talking about more than four, five, 10 or 15 people that’s going to benefit from this, we’re talking about two or three people.”

For some, they didn’t see the wind turbines as adding anything to the community, or that it would bring in more people who would spend money locally. Discussion of how wind turbines have affected other counties, including the banning of turbines in Madison County, and the setbacks involved were had.

The setbacks were something that Robins said they know needs to be addressed in the ordinance. As it stands, a wind turbine must be 1,200 feet from any building, and one and a quarter times the height from the property line, roughly 600 feet from a property line depending on the height of the turbine. This makes the turbine encroach on the neighboring property by at least 500 feet, 500 feet the property owner is not allowed to use.

“If you’re the neighbor, you don’t have [any] say-so in it,” said McCaulley.

It was pointed out that the heavy equipment and machinery doesn’t just go away once the turbines are up - they are back if something needs fixed, tearing up the roads again. There are many county roads that are already in need of attention, and allowing them to be utilized to install turbines would make the situation worse. For some counties, the traffic never stopped enough for them to put the roads back into the shape they were before.

“We don’t want nasty roads and stuff [torn] up. We don’t want a mess, either,” said Dunbar.

A concern was raised about transparency within the county on the subject of the turbines, and if more meetings were going to be held before a decision was made. It was noted that all zoning board meetings, who would be the ones to look at the ordinance, are open to the public, they just haven’t had a reason to meet in some time. Any future discussions between the supervisors and citizens would also be publicized.

“We actually have not been presented in a stance of, they’re telling us all this information, Dean had to take a shovel out and dig for the information that we currently have,” said Taylor.

With a show of hands, no one was in favor of wind turbines. A little less than half raised their hands that they were unsure.

“Once it starts, you’re going to have a hard time stopping it,” was a comment made.

Final thoughts

The supervisors thanked everyone for coming to the meeting, and closed with their personal thoughts on wind turbines.

“When everyone raised their hand…I don’t know…looking at more dollars than what we’re looking at, but then you have to have a lot more towers…would I want a tower on our family farm? No, not really, but if my neighbor’s gonna end up with one…,” said Robins, adding the need to look at ways for the county to find income long term.

Taylor, who had abstained from voting on the temporary moratorium, said that if he had had all of the information about what was going on in Madison County, he would have voted differently.

“I would have voted yes, wholeheartedly, on the moratorium,” Taylor said.

“I am very adamant on this, if we’re gonna even think about having any wind turbines, ever, it’s important to have good ordinances in place. Strict ones… It’s not right to encroach on somebody else’s property, and people need to be protected, sometimes from themselves,” said Dunbar.

The temporary moratorium on the construction of wind turbines is still in place.

A correction was made to the estimated income to be generated from wind turbines.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.