Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission forms subcommittee to tackle revisions to wind farm regulations

photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission screenshot

During its Monday, March 20, 2023 meeting, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission formed a subcommittee to help tackle revisions to the county's regulations for wind farms.

It’s not yet clear what the next draft of Douglas County’s revised regulations for wind energy development will look like, but it is clear that the work to codify the updated rules is far from finished.

At a meeting on Monday, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission discussed some of the changes it wanted to see in the second draft of that document. The conversation came about a month and a half after the public comment period for the first draft wrapped up in early February. Now, the planning commission has formed an ad hoc committee that’ll meet outside of regularly scheduled planning commission meetings to conduct further research, discuss and propose changes to the regulations.

That group will be led by Gary Rexroad as its presiding planning commissioner, and it’s tasked with taking a deep dive into the concerns and requests for changes that have come up during the revision process so far. Namely, that’ll happen through interactions with community members and experts. A subcommittee like this one played a key role in helping to develop the county’s solar energy regulations by providing recommendations to the larger body.

That feedback and discussion at future planning commission meetings is what will be used to craft the second draft of the revised wind energy regulations, which will then be released for another public comment period. It doesn’t seem like that will be happening anytime soon, though — the next time the full group will get an update from the ad hoc committee will be at the May 22 planning commission meeting.

The ad hoc group will likely spend plenty of time examining feedback from the public based on the level of public participation at most recent meetings where the regulations were a topic on the agenda. On Monday, for example, some members of the public said they wanted the final version of the regulations to ban large-scale wind energy development outright, a consistent call from other members of the public at previous meetings concerning the rules.

Others said they wanted the planning commission to more clearly define the difference between a “commercial” and a “personal” wind project, a sentiment commissioners agreed with later in the meeting.

All in all, planning commissioners agreed Monday that there’s still a sizable amount of work ahead, as evidenced by the hour of public comment and more than 1,000-page agenda item report for Monday’s discussion.

“This is difficult, but it is difficult for the people that showed up here,” planning commissioner Charlie Thomas said. “It is difficult for the people that have written us. It is difficult for the people that live in the whole county, and I think for us to do anything less than take a position that says ‘We understand how difficult this is, and we’re going to bite the bullet and do it,’ I don’t think is fair to the people that are out there.”

Outside of forming the subcommittee, the planning commission spent most of its time discussing the definitions section of the regulations. For the most part, that meant assessing whether those definitions needed to be reworded or reworked in any other way.

The planning commission devoted a lot of time to word choice; one example was clarifying the usage of the word “shall,” meaning something that is required, versus “should” or “may,” meaning something is permissive. County planner Cece Riley also asked planning commissioners for their thoughts about language referring to a project as a “wind farm,” which some members of the public flagged as possibly inappropriate on the annotated draft of the regulations included with the planning commission’s agenda for this week.

Riley said the terminology may be beneficial to help folks who aren’t familiar with the industry-standard name used in the regulations for wind projects — “wind energy conversion systems” — better understand the regulations. A standalone definition for “wind farms” was eventually relocated to the definition for “wind energy conversion systems” later during the meeting.

Planning commissioner Jim Carpenter said for the county’s solar regulations, which planners are looking to parallel as they revise the rules for wind projects, any terminology referring to “solar farms” was ultimately removed despite it being common parlance. Others on the commission seemed to agree that using terminology like “wind farm” in that way just in the definition section may be fine to leave as-is, though.


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