Friday, April 22, 2016

Commissioners approve Wind Ordinance

By Will Bublitz

Last week, the Lincoln County Commissioners  approved the county’s first-ever ordinance covering the construction and operation of wind energy facilities.

The new ordinance may appear to be a bit tardy because 472 wind turbines have already been erected in northern Lincoln County as part of four different projects over the past five years. Those wind turbines were approved under the county’s existing building permit process.

In approving the new ordinance last Wednesday, April 13, the commissioners said they were acting to deal with any future projects that wind energy developers may want to construct in the unincorporated portions of the county.

The stated purpose of the new ordinance, which amends the county’s zoning regulations, is to regulate “the construction and operation of Wind Energy Facilities in Lincoln County, subject to reasonable conditions that will protect the environment, and the public health, safety and welfare of Lincoln County residents.”

Under the ordinance, the owners and operators of medium and large wind energy facilities must first obtain a permit before construction can begin. Any new wind turbines to be added to an existing facility must also obtain a building permit.

The only exemption from this requirement is for “small” wind energy facilities which are defined as a single turbine/tower projects capable of generating 20 kilowatts or less that are used primarily for “on-site consumption.” No building permit is required for these small facilities.

In the permit application for either a medium or large facility, the owner/operator is required to list the following: the facility’s total kilowatt capacity; proposed number, types and heights of wind turbines to be constructed; location of each wind turbine to include a site map; a decommissioning plan; and a list of all landowners, adjacent landowners and mineral rights owners in the affected area of the proposed project.

The ordinance also requires setbacks for all wind turbines. Setbacks are the distance from the wind turbines to adjacent properties.

For a small, single-turbine facility, the setback must be “no less than 150 percent of the turbine height unless an agreement between the turbine owner and the adjacent landowner has been reached.”
Setbacks for the turbines of medium and large wind energy facilities cannot be less than 1,000 feet from any residence or 500 feet from non-occupied structures. Setbacks from public roads and the property lines of non-participating landowners cannot be less than 500 feet.

Waivers can be granted for these setback requirements, but only with the signed agreement by the participating and non-participating landowners.

The ordinance also limits the noise levels that can be produced by the wind turbines. When measured from the property line of an adjacent property owner, noise levels are not permitted to exceed 60 decibels from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 50 decibels from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Before any construction can begin, the ordinance requires the wind energy developers to enter into a Road Use Agreement with Lincoln County. The agreement covers designated truck routes, dust abatement, reclamation and bonding requirements.

If a mineral interest owner objects to the construction of wind energy facility, the ordinance requires the project’s developer to “reasonably accommodate access to and development of subsurface mineral interests” as required by Colorado law. In addition, the developer must provide “evidence that it has entered into, or made good faith and commercially reasonable efforts to enter into, surface use agreements or other compatible development agreements with surface owners and any mineral estate owners which has filed timely objections.”

The ordinance states the Lincoln County Commissioners will “act in a quasi-judicial capacity” to attempt to resolve any disputes between mineral owners and wind developers before granting approval of a building permit for a wind energy project.

Under the provisions of the ordinance, the wind energy facility’s developer is solely responsible for “any damages done to federal, state, county, municipal and private property during the pre-construction, construction, operations and decommission phases of the wind energy facility.”
Once electrical production finally ends at a facility, the ordinance gives the facility owner 12 months to complete its decommissioning. This includes the removal of wind turbines, building, cabling, electrical components and related facilities. It also requires the grading and reseeding of the land where the facility once stood.

Applications for the building permits and additional information can be obtained from the county’s Land Use Administrator.

If a proposed project is approved by the county commissioners, a building permit fee is required. The fee will be based on “two percent of the material cost of the turbines,” according to the ordinance.

This fee may be negotiated by the applicant with the commissioners prior to submitting the building permit application.

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