Board requests increased setbacks for wind project

Published 11:51 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved sending a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the company tasked with developing the Freeborn Wind Energy Project — requesting to increase the minimum setback allowance of wind turbines from houses to 1,500 feet.

Commissioners approved the measure by a 3-2 vote. Dan Belshan, Mike Lee and Jim Nelson voted yes. Chris Shoff and Glen Mathiason voted no.

Forty-two turbines are expected to be in London, Shell Rock, Hayward and Oakland townships.The remaining balance of wind turbines for the project are planned for Iowa.

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In requesting the letter, Belshan said he thought Freeborn County homeowners should be allowed to have the same setback from windmills as Worth County residents, saying increasing the setback allowance would either reduce or eliminate noise and flicker issues.

“Iowa’s doing it, so whey aren’t we doing it that way?” Belshan said.

Lee questioned why Freeborn County does not have the same minimum setback as Worth County.

Prior to the vote, landowners in the vicinity of the proposed wind farm discussed their support of increasing the minimum setback.

Freeborn County resident Jake Schumacher said he would appreciate if the windmill setback was increased by 150 feet from his property.

“I have not been contacted,” he said. “They will not contact me. I have stood here and asked them to — it has not been done.”

Shell Rock Township resident Doreen Hansen, representing southeast Freeborn County landowners, expressed concern about current setback limits.

Bob Vanpelt, who lives in the vicinity of the proposed wind farm, described developer Invenergy as a Chicago company, and he said profits from the project will not stay in the area.

Children who grow up in the area would be less likely to come back to live in close proximity to a wind farm, he said, and he questioned whether Invenergy had an understanding of the life of rural residents who live in the area of wind farms.

Vanpelt asked why there are larger setbacks from houses in cities than from rural houses, saying it implied rural landowners were worth less.

Xcel Energy will take over the building for the project and operate it.

Dan Litchfield, senior manager of business development with Invenergy, said the company is in compliance with Freeborn County setback requirements — realistically 1,141 feet.

He said it is important to discuss concerns face-to-face. Litchfield was not able to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

“I would have liked to have been there for the meeting,” he said.

He said the 1,500-feet minimum setback in Worth County was a reasonable distance in Iowa — a state that has no setback requirements and fewer regulations than Minnesota, he said.

“It’s just a very different scenario,” Litchfield said.

Thirty-six planned wind turbines in Minnesota have a setback of more than 1,500 feet, he said.

Litchfield said increasing setback requirements will only reduce the windmills that will be in Minnesota, resulting in a loss of revenue and jobs to Iowa.

Mathiason said there was a setback of 1,189 feet from a participating landowner, as well as setbacks of 1,348, 1,366, 1,399, 1,476 and 1,495 feet.

“I don’t think we’ve got an issue in this case with what we are talking about,” he said.

“I don’t think a letter to the (Public Utilities Commission) is going to change any ideas on that.”

Mathiason said the board should allow Invenergy officials to address the board on why setback allowances between the two counties are different. 

Shoff said he did not have time to review the measure before the meeting because of the short amount of time between when the measure was introduced and when the vote took place, and he questioned why the board would send the letter without receiving input from Invenergy.

Prior to the vote, Freeborn County Attorney David Walker said the county would not face legal backlash if it sent the letter.

After the meeting, Hansen said she was pleased with the board’s vote and expressed hope that an increased minimum setback would alleviate any possible issues with flicker and noise issues. 

“We are very excited that there is a letter that will be going to the Public Utilities Commission, so they can see that the county does support a 1,500 feet setback in Minnesota, just as they do in Iowa,” she said. “This is one project, crossing the Minnesota-Iowa border, and there is no reason that there should be different setbacks for the homes in Iowa versus the homes in Minnesota.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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