CLINTON — In a repeat of the March 2019 vote, the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday voted 5-1 to not recommend a special use application for the Alta Farms II wind energy project. The vote came after a lengthy series of public hearings that repeated some information from the 2019 hearings and added new information as well.
John Griffin was the lone vote in favor of passage, as he was in 2019, saying he believed Tradewind's second application for the permit was complete. Griffin laced some of his prepared comments Thursday with sarcasm as he described how he felt Tradewind had met the requirements of the county's wind energy ordinance.
The five other members of the board, however, strongly disagreed with Griffin, with varying degrees of indignation at Griffin and at Tradewind officials.
For the most part, ZBA member David Waters felt Tradewind officials had not done what was necessary to submit a complete application. He felt Tradewind had not invited county officials into the loop with regard to developing a decommissioning plan for the project and also had not provided critical information about decommissioning. His interpretation of the ordinance included an understanding that a full decommissioning plan was required with the special use permit application.
"You've bypassed us, wanting to take it to the county (board)," Waters told Tradewind representatives. "I'm just a little bit upset you guys wouldn't give that to us."
Tradewind released a statement shortly after Thursday's ZBA vote:
“We appreciate the time and dedication the Zoning Board of Appeals committed to the Alta Farms II application over several weeks of hearings. We remain confident in the application, which clearly meets or exceeds all of DeWitt County’s ordinance requirements and details a first-rate wind farm that will be an asset to the entire community. We look forward to the next step in the approval process and to bringing this project and its many community benefits to fruition.”
Turbine effect on radar debated
CLINTON — Testimony concluded this week in the hearings for the Alta Farms II wind project special use permit application.
Among those addressing the board this week, physicist Donald Waddell resumed his testimony Monday after testifying Jan. 30 at the Zoning Board of Appeals’ (ZBA) hearing for the Alta Farms II wind energy permit application.
Waddell’s testimony in the 2019 hearings for the same project were pivotal in the ZBA’s decision to not recommend the permit. His testimony that wind towers interfere with Doppler weather radar was one of the key factors of concern cited by most board members.
In his testimony in the current hearings, Waddell covered much of the information he presented in 2019 plus some additional and more detailed information.
On Monday, Waddell asserted that wind towers interfered with weather radar even during curtailment, a process to drastically reduce the rotation of the wind turbines during periods of severe weather.
Tradewind representatives have said curtailment during storms would solve the problem of radar interference, giving forecasters the ability to spot tornados and issue warnings.
“Volunteer curtailment does not remove all interference,” Waddell said on Monday.” “Interference is from reflection from the physical obstructions that don’t move and turbulence resulting from airflow.”
He said it was difficult for him to accept that a group of 66 wind towers, each measuring 600 feet tall and approximately 12-13 miles from the Lincoln Doppler radar would not cause interference with the radar.
“Radar has a reflectivity function, and anything it sees, it’s going to reflect back,” Waddell said. “That’s a function of the size of the target, how close it is and some other factors relative to the beam itself.”
Waddell said curtailment would not remove the towers from the radar’s line of sight. He said turbulence was a function of wind velocity and the radar would be unable to filter it out.
Radar expert Geoff Blackman testified for Tradewind Energy, the Alta Farms II developer, on Jan. 17. Blackman said that by feathering, or reducing, the angle of the blades combined with slowing their rotation to about one RPM, interference would be mitigated.
Residents during that hearing were concerned, assuming curtailment would mitigate radar interference, that the automated curtailment system might not be activated in time to issue a tornado warning for the area.
Blackman pointed out that tornado warnings aren’t issued to conform to county lines but are made up of irregular boxes that follow the path of a storm.
Some of these warning boxes might overlap only a small corner of any one county, which, in some cases, could place it a fairly long distance from a neighboring county.
Waddell’s testimony Monday, however, suggested curtailment was not enough to eliminate weather radar interference. He testified in 2019 that wind towers could mask important weather developments, keeping them out of the view of the radar and forecasters.
In his testimony, Blackman said he felt it was unlikely weather events would be hidden from radar once curtailment was activated.
Local wind tower manufacturer Arcosa officially backed the Alta Farms II project with a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals last week.
Tradewind officials said they have committed to buying at least 20 percent of its wind tower components for the project from Arcosa.
That would total about 13 or more of the planned 66 towers, components for which could be manufactured at any of Arcosa's facilities.
A schedule for when the full DeWitt County Board will consider the ZBA recommendation is not yet set. Following the 2019 hearings for Tradewind's first application, the ZBA voted on Mar. 12 to forward the matter to the county board with a recommendation to not approve the permit. The county board voted on Apr. 25 to uphold the ZBA recommendation.