At public meeting about wind farm rules, residents speak out against commercial wind energy projects in Douglas County
photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
A public meeting about proposed regulations for wind farms in Douglas County became contentious Thursday evening as some members of the public spoke out against the possibility of any commercial wind energy projects coming to the county.
That included some comments directed at representatives of Florida-based energy firm NextEra Energy Resources, who were present at the meeting and said the company is interested in the possibility of a future large-scale wind energy project in the county. The company has previously confirmed to the Journal-World that it’s exploring whether a wind energy project would be viable in southwest Douglas County.
“I do not even understand why we are looking at wind energy,” one resident at the meeting said. “This is a farce.”
Dozens of residents attended the meeting, which was hosted by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office. The planning staff repeatedly had to ask folks to comment on the regulations themselves, rather than their preferences against large-scale wind energy projects, and to direct their comments toward planning staff instead of the commercial developers at the meeting.
One of the planners working to develop the draft regulations, Sandra Day, said the planning commission’s charge is just to develop regulations. If residents wanted to voice their opposition to wind energy developments, Day said, they should speak to the Douglas County Commission, which is the body that would approve or deny any future wind energy project.
Day also reminded members of the public that the county hasn’t actually received any applications for wind developments yet.
The meeting was one of the first steps in a monthslong process that planning staff said is intended to bring regulations for wind energy in line with the county’s new solar regulations that passed last year. The planning commission got its first look at the amended rules for wind farms late last month.
The county has had regulations for wind farms on the books since 2017, but Day and fellow planner Cece Riley said the amended versions are supposed to provide much more detail and clarity about standards for wind farms. They detail size and power specifications like setbacks and height limits, and also outline a thorough application process for commercial systems.
Some members of the public wanted to see those limits go much further, though, and they asked for changes like mandating more space between turbines and dwellings. The proposed minimum distance is 1,500 feet, but one commenter asked for it to be changed to 2,500 feet, and another wanted the minimum to be a mile or even 2 miles away.
Other commenters were concerned about noise levels. The amended regulations would require the noise during operation to not exceed 50 decibels, measured at the property line of the nearest nonparticipating property owners. One member of the public asked that the regulations include quiet hours, and another wanted the maximum noise level to be even lower, at 30 decibels.
“This is something we’ll have to deal with for 24 hours every day for the next 20 years,” another member of the public said.
Other things members of the public asked planners to consider looking into further as they revise the draft regulations included how to ensure they’ll be enforced; how the regulations address infrastructure pieces like transmission lines; and how roads and bridges would be repaired after any future turbine installation.
The public’s next chance to provide comment about the proposed regulations directly to planning staff will be at the Planning Commission’s next meeting, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23 at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. Planning staff will also host an open house from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30 in the planning office at City Hall.
The public comment period for the draft regulations closes at the end of the day Feb. 5; those comments will be compiled and received at the planning commission’s next meeting. Comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and more information about the proposed regulations is available on the City of Lawrence’s website.