Editorial: Wind energy rules too strict

Source: By Editorial Board, Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Friday, March 18, 2016

The Lancaster County Board should heed the request of a local coalition that it take another look at the super-strict noise limits it approved last year for wind turbines.

As John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, told the board last week, the regulations “make it next to impossible to develop wind energy in our county.”

The county board’s action takes a sizable bite out of property rights, and imposes an undue regulatory burden on industry.

The new regulations set a noise limit of 40 decibels in the day and 37 at night for wind turbines.

To put the limit in perspective, the board members probably exceeded the daytime limits in their own meeting room when they were discussing the issue.

Forty decibels is the hush of a library. When the Journal Star editorial board put a noise meter on the table during its own meeting the needle stayed at 40 decibels just with the noise of the air handling equipment, lights and so forth.

Although it might not have registered on the public at the time, the limits enacted by the county board were ten times as strict as recommended earlier in the process by the Lincoln-Lancaster Planning Commission.

That’s because noise decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale.

So when the county board took the 50-decibel limit recommended by the planning commission and sliced it to 40 decibels, the reduction was much more drastic than it might have appeared.

The benefits of wind energy are manifold. In addition to providing electricity without pumping more carbon into the environment, the investment also boosts the economy and delivers more property tax revenue. As Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm reminded the board, that revenue is needed for bridge and road projects.

Jeffrey Wagner, director of Volkswind USA, an Oregon-based company that wants to build 50 wind turbines in southern Lancaster County and northern Gage County, said a commercial project still would be feasible with a limit of 45 decibels.

Lancaster County noise limits are the strictest in the state, and wind energy developers are worried that other communities might try to follow its lead.

There’s no question that balancing the desires of rural property owners is difficult.

In the case of the noise limits the county board went too far in its zeal to protect rural tranquility. The board, which approved the strict limits by a narrow 3-2 majority, should reconsider.