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TCAT hosts forum with Worth County Zoning Chair

Pictured left front is TCAT’s Compliance Leader Heather Knebel, followed by Treasurer Richard Arp, Secretary Janet Wilson and Kathy Harkema. To the right is Jon Winkelpleck the Chair and Spokesperson. (Photo by Vanessa Roudabush)
Guest speaker at TCAT meeting, Jeff Gorball, the Planning and Zoning Commission Chair in Worth County came to Weiting Theater to share his experience with drafting Wind Ordinances, Zoning and the due process of a Moratorium. He donated his time to better assist Tama County with their wind energy concerns pertaining to the Winding Stairs Wind Project. (Photo by Vanessa Roudabush)

Tama County Against Turbines (TCAT) hosted an informative forum at Wieting Hall last Wednesday regarding the Winding Stair Wind Project. The project owners, Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., stated the location of the proposed 50 to 70 industrial turbines will be located in rural Tama County between 150th St. near Traer and Dysart to Clutier and Elberon areas.

TCAT has asked the Board of Supervisors to revise the county’s wind ordinance, which has gone unchanged since 2010. They have proposed stronger decommissioning requirements that adjust with inflation, like setting aside $1 million in escrow when a project is applied for rather than 15 years in, the required installation of fire suppression systems, and noise restriction of no more than 40 decibels. They also state turbines should be set back from homes and property lines of non-participating landowners with at least 2,000 feet of clearance or four times the height of the turbine with the blades fully extended.

Guest speaker Jeff Gorball, the Planning, and Zoning Commission Chair in Worth County shared his experiences with the passage of new commercial wind ordinances during the Worthwhile Wind Project by Invenergy. He explained the basic process of ordinances dictated by law. It begins with a county-wide plan drafting followed by the Zoning Commission’s recommendations prior to a public hearing and supervisors’ vote.

This process is repeated to determine changes made to the Ordinance. He cited Iowa Code 333.301 Subsection 1, which grants County Supervisors the authority to: “…exercise any power and perform any function it deems appropriate to protect and preserve the rights, privileges, and property of the county or of its residents, and to preserve and improve the peace, safety, health, welfare, comfort, and convenience of its residents.” TCAT argues the Tama County Board of Supervisors is ignoring this code.

Gorball provided a detailed Worth County timeline for the Worthwhile Wind Project by Invenergy. Beginning with approval of a moratorium in late March 2021, effective until July 1, 2022. In April 2021, Worth County’s Zoning Commission began work updating the Ordinance along with the Commission’s recommendation for the ordinance in June 2021.

After drafting the CWECS ordinance, they issued a copy to Invenergy for feedback and were denied. During the entire process, Invenergy lobbied Worth County’s Board of Supervisors to sign a separate agreement, stating a new wind ordinance is unnecessary as it won’t apply to them due to their vested rights.

In October 2021, Worth County’s Board of Supervisors denied the proposed agreement and began reviewing the newly drafted CWECS wind ordinances. From the months of February to May 2022, the county had hearings on countywide zoning, prior to which only three of the twelve townships in Worth County had established zoning regulations. Invenergy then filed a court petition asking for vested rights, claiming the county’s moratorium and proposed regulations were unreasonable, but in June 2022, the modified CWECS Wind Ordinance was unanimously approved by the Worth County Board of Supervisors.

According to Gorball, the goal of Worth County’s zoning commission when creating the new Wind Ordinance was to, “create a comprehensive ordinance that met the requirements of the law and enables an orderly process for the development of commercial wind turbines in Worth County consistent with the principles of safety, general welfare and preservation of prime property and citizen rights of current and future land owners.”

His department researched 38 ordinances from around Iowa, including Tama County, reviewed state and federal guidelines related to commercial wind development, obtained input from five local government agencies and two wind development companies, one of which was Invenergy, and hundreds of hours researching peer-reviewed scientific journals and received dozens of unsolicited input from individuals and business entities prior to providing a public preliminary draft of the ordinance. While researching the Tama County ordinance, Gorball opined that the lack of updates to the ordinance over the last 12 years has failed to address the advancement of wind energy technology since 2010.