A new set of renewable energy rules has been drafted by the Harvey County Planning and Zoning Board, and within the draft are some big changes for wind and solar energy generation in the county.
Most noted, an effective ban of commercial wind energy projects coupled with the same for commercial solar energy projects.
"Essentially these will prohibit commercial wind energy in Harvey County, but it will still allow personal wind energy," said county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber. "Additionally, it will prohibit commercial scale solar energy projects in Harvey County but will continue to allow limited scale or personal solar projects."
The new renewable energy regulations will be subject to a public hearing at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Harvey County Courthouse, 800 N. Main.
A copy of the proposed rules will be placed on the Harvey County website, harveycounty.com.
The regulations list under "findings" that Harvey County is "not suitable" for commercial wind energy or solar systems.
"Preserving agricultural farm ground and rural landscape is a high priority of the comprehensive plan. Findings concluded this use did not comply with those goals and did not conform to the purposeful growth goals for Harvey County," the document read.
Cited as challenges for commercial wind and solar projects were a "lack of suitability" due to "environmentally sensitive areas" which include the Equus Beds Aquifer, the Sand Hills overlay and flood plains.
Also cited were the population density of the county, the number of airports in the county, communication towers in the county and possible interference with weather predication and radar systems in the county.
The work to create renewable energy rules was touched off in Sept. 0f 2020, when NextEra announced the company's plans to evaluate Harvey County for a project to build wind turbines on leased land.
In July of 2021 NextEra representatives announced the anticipated size of the project – a minimum of 60 turbines depending on landowner interest in the project.
The first set of regulations created by the county Planning and Zoning Board went through months of debate and revision before being presented to the Harvey County Commission.
The commission approved, with a modification, those rules Oct. 13, 2022 during a meeting at the Meridian Center in Newton.
That night the commission heard more than an hour and a half of public comment, and the vast majority of the nearly 50 speakers on the night opposed wind energy in some way while also supporting the proposed CREP created by the Harvey County Planning and Zoning Board.
Ultimately the commission approved an amended set of regulations, which limits where wind turbines can be placed but allows NextEra Wind Energy to pursue a project
The regulations created setbacks for turbines, rules for dealing with leakage/contamination, provisions for the preservation of historical sites, provisions for ice throw, provisions limited shadow flicker to 30 hours per year, requirements for reporting of erosion, reporting bid kills and approvals by the ground water management district.
The commission added language to the rules at the request of the Equus Beds Groundwater Management District; added a requirement for applicants to follow local, state and federal laws; added the submission of road impact and right of way studies to townships; and changed the setback from non-participating property lines.
In February of 2023 the issue returned, when Justin Stucky, who serves as the chair of the Harvey County Planning and Zoning Board, went to the county commission Feb. 7 seeking three things – a discussion to change part of the Commercial Renewable Energy Project rules, a moratorium on wind energy projects and a public vote on whether or not such projects should be allowed in Harvey County.
Later that day he brought those three issues up to the Planning and Zoning Board, and the rules debate was reopened.
Following about an hour of discussion, the planning and zoning board voted 9-0 to request the county commission place a six month moratorium on renewable energy project and host an advisory vote for county residents. The board also will provide the commission with more detail of how the board arrived at the setback recommendations last year.
The county commission granted a six month moratorium, which then extended through the end of the year to facilitate the work of the Planning and Zoning Board.
The idea of a public election was killed, based on the costs of performing such a vote.
Where the project currently stands
The company has approached landowners in Harvey County to negotiate leases, with a target of constructing about 60 wind turbines according to previous statements by the company at county commission meetings.
All of that is now in limbo, as the new rules require a public hearing before they are presented to the county commission for possible approval and adoption.
The company has received approval for the construction or meteorological towers as it continues to evaluate the county for a possible project.
A met tower is a metrological tower, in this case used to measure wind speeds in the area as the company evaluates Harvey County for a possible wind energy project.
The average meteorological tower is 60 meters, or about 190-feet tall, according to Julia Schleicher, Communication Specialist, Marketing & Communications for NextEra Energy Resources.
The county approved the first of those applications was approved in January. Four more met towers were recommended for approval by the planning and zoning board on Feb. 7