Local officials feel ordinance will keep turbines out of the county
By Jim Magdefrau
VINTON – A room full of officials and citizens let a wind power representative know that its land use ordinance will keep wind turbines out of Benton County.
The discussion was held as part of the Benton County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, June 7, at the service center in Vinton.
Benton County is a potential location for a new project for Liberty Power. Olivia Neter, project developer for Liberty Power explained current projects. Liberty Power is based out of Ontario, Canada.
This would be their first project in Iowa. Their primary focus has been Illinois. “Iowa is becoming quite attractive for quite a few developers,” she told the board. “So that’s why we’re here.”
Liberty now has 1,541 operating turbines. They plan to have 1,000 more.
“When you start a project, you have long-term relationships. That’s why I’m here today,” Neter said. They have not contacted any landowners yet. She said they always start at the county level to understand everybody’s perspective. They want to provide local benefits to the communities and be supportive of development. She added they want to be as transparent as possible, and again, that’s why she was at the meeting.
She said the area has transmission access, plus wind and solar resources. The area is flat so it’s pretty easy to build infrastructure. She also noted there is an ordinance in place for zoning. She also discussed environmental attributes.
They have a project called Shady Oaks One, which started in 2011. They just finished the second part of this in 2021. She said they are looking to place about 50 to 60 turbines in Union, Eldorado, Fremont, Leroy, St. Clair and Florence Townships to start.
The timeline includes introduction, consultation and land acquisition for several years, then interconnection applications and engagement with the community. They hope to have permitting from 2023 to 2025. Construction could begin in 2025, and it would be operational by 2026. That is the goal.
Benefits include tax revenues and employment. They also hope to work with farmers, so they won’t impact their operations. They are also looking at road upgrades and maintenance. They also hope to support local groups and businesses.
Supervisor Chairman Tracy Seeman referred to the land use policy at the end of the presentation, saying, “The way we have the ordinance set up right now in the county, you won’t be able to build.”
Land Use Administrator Marc Greenlee explained Benton County has an agricultural land preservation ordinance. The entire unincorporated area of Benton County is classified as an agricultural land use district. Within that district, any new non-agricultural use has to be reviewed and approved by the supervisors. Certain criteria has to be met. The Number One priority is if the land is considered as productive land. Production is 70 corn suitability rating (CSR) or above. This is what the county has done since the mid-1980s, since the ordinance was put in place. A very high percentage of land in Benton County has a high CSR, Greenlee added. It’s all good land along Highway 30, he added.
Benton County citizen Al Schafbuch was at the meeting. He stressed they do not want wind towers on ag land. “In our opinion, you’re not going to get public support.”
“That’s good information,” Neter said. It is why they start process early to get that type of information.
Lynn Rinderknecht, area farmer, asked why they don’t go out to the desert in Arizona.
Neter said this area was selected because it has the highest wind speeds.
Others also voiced their support of the land use ordinance.
Greenlee said there have been requests in the past for wind and solar projects. Once they learn of Benton County’s rules and regulations, the county does not hear from them again. People can always apply for a land use change, but they try to explain the facts about the land.
Supervisor Richard Primmer asked if the county should do a moratorium on wind and solar until they can get additional rules and regulations in place before anyone makes an application. Benton County Attorney David Thompson answered that under the land use ordinance, they virtually don’t have any place in the county that one of these would be allowed. A moratorium would not be needed. Greenlee also felt a moratorium is not needed, due to the ordinance.
Seeman told Neter, “I guess that’s all we got. You kind of hear our game plan here is not favorable for you.”
Dean Vrba, Benton County Transportation, received approval for a part-time driver. Jennifer Mehlert was approved at $15.40 per hour.
A land hearing was set for Tuesday, July 5, 9:15 a.m., for Steve and Emma Henry Jr. for land in Parcel A, Section 24, Cedar Township.
A hearing was set for Tuesday, July 5, 9:30 a.m. for Hensley Innovation LLC, for land in Parcel A, Section 6, Florence Township.
A land use hearing was set for Tuesday, July 5, 9:45 a.m. for Amana Society for land in Section 30, Eldorado Township.
A farm exemption was approved for Tess Kuhn for land in Section 11, Polk Township. This is for a new house on land that she owns. No land will come out of production since it is on timber land.
A service agreement was approved with Nyhart for GASB 75 actuarial update.
Training was discussed and approved for Mona Onken, human resources.
In business presented by Benton County Engineer Myron Parizek, the board approved wage and classification change for Taylor Pflughaupt.
They approved a utility permit for ITC Midwest LLC in St. Clair and Eldorado Township. They want to repair, rebuild and extend one of their lines.
They set a public hearing date for vacating road right of way 33rd Ave Dr in Section 24 of Benton Township.
The board also discussed the speed limit on 11th Ave. and how the speed limit signs are posted. Motorists are using it as a detour for road work at Highways 21 and 30.