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Worth County passes commercial wind moratorium

By Jaci Smith, Mason City Globe Gazette

The Worth County Board of Supervisors passed a “temporary moratorium” on commercial wind projects in the county on Monday, though it’s unclear what effect it will have on an ongoing project.

Invenergy, doing business in the county as Worthwhile Wind and Solar Farm, is in the midst of obtaining easements in Worth and Winnebago counties for a 30,000-acre wind farm. The number of turbines for the project has not yet been determined.

Last week the board tabled the proposed temporary moratorium on commercial wind farms after discussion turned to a broader topic — whether county-wide zoning is needed in Worth. Three townships in the county have zoning, the remaining nine and all the unincorporated areas of the county do not.

Opponents to the project argue that in a past project in Worth County, Invenergy verbally promised residents a 1,500-foot setback but then didn’t deliver. Without zoning, the only protection a landowner has is to include setback requirements in their contract with the energy company that’s building the turbine. But such an agreement doesn’t protect neighbors; only zoning regulations would do that, they say.

Proponents of the project, and others like it in the county, say wind farms have been in the county for decades with no complaints from anyone until a few years ago. They also point to the $4.8 million in tax revenue the county receives that helps fund infrastructure improvements.

On Monday, Mark Crowl, Invenergy’s renewable energy development manager and the  project developer, told the board that his company believes any moratorium enacted at this point would not apply to Worthwhile’s current work as it has passed several benchmarks that under Iowa regulations render it well past starting stages.

Board members AJ Stone and Enos Loberg, who both voted in support of the moratorium, sharply questioned Crowl on a previous Invenergy project — Freeborn County Wind in Deer Creek and Grove townships — where the wind company verbally promised 1,500-foot setbacks and then didn’t consistently deliver.

Both Stone and Loberg acknowledged in their comments that the moratorium wasn’t going to impact Worthwhile’s project timeline, but that they wanted time to study implementing county-wide zoning, which would protect residents who don’t want turbines near their property.

Crowl repeatedly told the board that he could not comment on the Freeborn project as he was not involved with it, but said it was the concerns that arose from it — such as the setbacks — that drove Worthwhile to send the board a letter last week offering to memorialize the setback in a development agreement that would apply to the 170 easement agreements the company has already signed with residents in the county, protecting them and their neighbors from turbines being too close to homes.

Stone told Crowl that while he appreciated Worthwhile drafting the agreement, he felt it was written to the company’s benefit.

“I want something that puts Worth County residents first,” he said.

Board member Mark Smeby had argued last week that a moratorium would potentially hurt future business in the county, a position he echoed again on Monday, in voting against the moratorium.

The resolution has a sunset date of July 1, 2022.

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