October 01, 2023

Supervisors begin review of wind turbine setbacks

Union County Board of Supervisors expect to have an agenda item about wind turbine setbacks for their June 12 meeting. The item was part of a review of the ordinance during their Monday meeting. No action was taken.

The review of the ordinance comes months after two meetings where supervisors were encouraged to implement an abeyance on wind turbine expansion, as was explained by those in attendance. A meeting in December and March had 69 and 122 people in attendance, respectively. Supervisors approved an abeyance in March effective until December.

“We had decided to get started with the facts we have received from the public and what we have gathered ourself,” said Supervisor Chairman Rick Friday.

Supervisors consented to address details of the ordinance individually. All agreed setbacks was priority. Union County’s wind turbine ordinance became effective in 2020 when 34 turbines were constructed in the northwest corner of the county.

“As I drive though these wind farms in our county and other counties, I can’t help but think about our current setbacks,” Friday said. He referred to a 1-mile setback from recreation areas but yet a setback is 1,500 feet “from where people live there lives. When my wife and I drove though, that question came up. I think the residents of this county ask the same question.”

The ordinance states the turbine must be at least 1,500 feet, or 1.1 times the height, whatever is greater, from a structure, like a house.

An option is to change the setback distance to the property line, not a structure.

Supervisor Dennis Hopkins supports changing the setback point to property line.

“Figuring out the number is the hard part,” he said. “For non-participants the setback should be from the property line. Where your setbacks are a certain distance and someone wants to build, they get limited. I think from the property line makes a lot of sense. If someone wants to split their property into lots later on and their son wants to build a house, all of a sudden part of that space has been taken away.”

Hopkins said “reasonable” in trying to find the number, but still for someone who wants to put in a turbine.

“We are not going to please everybody,” he said.

Supervisor Dennis Brown said has heard from people who want to extend the setback distance.

“We have to find the right balance. That may be a moving target,” Brown said.

“If they are both frustrated with us at the end of the day, we probably did a pretty good job,” Hopkins said about those in favor and opposed to wind turbine regulation revisions. Hopkins said he has heard more comments from people who question turbines than those in favor.

Friday said it is important to protect Creston’s heritage, using the annual Southwest Iowa Hot Air Balloon event as an example. The proposal for expansion was targeted toward the southern part of the county. It’s possible additional wind turbines could interfere with the hot air balloon traffic. The proposed expansion was in the southern part of the county.

Friday said the decommissioning part of the ordinance also needs addressed. Decommission is when a turbine is no longer needed and is dismantled. Friday and Hopkins referred to the cost of dismantling is more than the amount stated in the ordinance. Friday is interested in reviewing the decommissioning factors on a tighter schedule to monitor costs.

“Setbacks will be the most difficult thing,” Friday said. “Things have changed. This is a document that can be changed. It is our responsibility to look at it and people expect us to look at it.”

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.