Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission member Eddie Anderson, left, tours a Heartland Electric Cooperative solar farm in Bourbon County. (Charlene Sims/Linn County Journal)
By Roger Sims, Journal staff
MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commission, in a special meeting on Wednesday, July 5, voted to prohibit the construction of commercial wind turbines in Linn County. In a split 2-1 vote in front of a roomful of wind turbine opponents, commissioners decided that the updated zoning regulations would not favor large-scale wind power development.
In casting the vote against the prohibition, Commission Chair Danny McCullough said he supported the rights of property owners to make decisions about the use of their own property.
McCullough also said that he thought of running the county like operating a business and he was concerned that we had industry knocking at the county's door that would provide more revenue and it was being prohibited.
Commissioner Jason Hightower who was attending the meeting on conference call said that the county had not heard anything from wind companies throughout this whole process and they had the opportunity to speak up like the solar companies did.
Hightower said, 'We are giving them their chance right now to have a say in this process and so far they have chosen not to."
The vote settles for now an issue that split the county’s planning commission: whether to prohibit wind turbines or enact provisions that strictly regulate where and how wind turbines could be built.
Commissioners went on to unanimously approve a provision that would allow up to 8,000 acres of solar farms in the county, which is about 2% of the land in the county. The vote to approve solar installations also relaxed a 150-foot setback requirement, leaving it up to the planning commission to decide in each instance what the setbacks should be.
The solar- and wind-power issues were the main sticking points on passing the updated zoning regulations. Commissioners received the updated zoning regulations in June but sent them back to the planning and zoning commission to develop findings, or reasons to allow or disallow development of those installations.
Solar development companies, which have already indicated that they intend to build about 4,000 acres of solar farms in the northeast corner of the county, asked that the initial 4,000 acres allowed for solar in the county be increased. They also asked that the setback from roads and property lines be reduced.
The county has had a moratorium on on both wind- and solar-power installations until the zoning regulations could be approved. The solar farm moratorium was approved by commissioners last year, however the wind turbine moratorium has been in place for about five years.
In his vote to approve the prohibition on wind turbines, Commissioner Jason Hightower said that he had not been contacted by anyone in support of turbines, and it was his decision to vote against allowing them to be built in the county.
The decision lifts the moratorium on applications for solar farms, and companies that have shown interest are expected to begin the application procedures soon.
The updated zoning regulations addressed the new issues, revised subdivision regulations and included an updated map of zoning districts as well.