Douglas County Commission approves revised wind energy regulations

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Post updated at 11:36 p.m. Wednesday, May 1:

Douglas County commissioners voted Wednesday to approve revisions to local wind energy regulations.

Alternative energy has drawn a great deal of public interest, particularly from rural residents who would be more directly impacted by large wind farms and solar farms — such as the one for which commissioners recently approved a permit.

After marathon meetings in October and January, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission voted 6-3 to advance draft wind energy regulations with one key modification: increasing required setbacks from property lines to 2,500 feet from 1,500. The three commissioners who voted against the regulations wanted to require smaller setbacks that would have allowed more flexibility for future wind developments. 

Commissioners were only considering the regulations on Wednesday — no specific projects were on the agenda.

Commissioner Shannon Reid said she thought the 2,500-foot setback was responsive to the community’s concerns. Commissioners Patrick Kelly and Karen Willey agreed the 2,500-foot setbacks were OK.

Commissioners agreed to cut the option of a company providing the county a letter of credit to ensure cleanup of wind energy site once it is no longer in use. Instead, a company must provide a cash escrow account, performance bond or some other form of security.

Commissioners heard from 65 people over a span of several hours. About two-thirds of them were opposed to any wind energy developments in Douglas County. Several asked the commission to implement a ban on wind energy instead of approving the draft regulations.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Dozens of community members packed into the Douglas County Public Works building for the commission’s meeting to discuss wind energy regulations.

Rep. Carrie Barth, a resident of southwest Douglas County and Republican representing House District 5, told commissioners she hoped “this project” would not pass, but it was unclear what project she was referring to.

“Let me tell you, I’ve had multiple times I can take power away from local control. I believe in local control,” Barth said. “What I don’t believe is when you don’t listen, and that is when we will have to do something at the state level. Don’t make us do something that I don’t want to have to do.”

A few people who spoke questioned potential conflicts of interest, procedural issues and more.

Several other people said they thought the 2,500-foot setback was too much, and it would effectively be a ban on wind energy in Douglas County.

The meeting was tense at times. Frequent commenter Justin Spiehs was arrested on suspicion of interfering with the conduct of public business, but he bonded out of the Douglas County jail and was back in time to give public comment again.

“I would much rather live in a community that is this engaged, that is this passionate about civic process, than a community that doesn’t care,” Kelly said. “But sometimes that means we have to manage ourselves when we’re feeling really amped up about something we care a lot about.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Another person in attendance at the meeting holds the sign Justin Spiehs brought to the meeting with him.
August Rudisell/Lawrence Times
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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