Iowa farmer sues to stop new wind turbine projects

Source: By Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch • Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2022

A member of an east-central Iowa group that wants to restrict where wind turbines can be erected has sued the Tama County Board of Supervisors, alleging it violated the state’s open meetings law. The group wants a judge to temporarily halt new turbine projects, according to court records.

The Tama County Against Turbines coalition formed in March in response to a proposed wind farm that, combined with another recent wind farm that is under early construction, has the potential to triple the number of turbines in the county to more than 180.

“This has awakened the public,” said Kathy Krafka Harkema, a spokesperson for the group, which has more than 1,000 members of Facebook. “The citizens are getting much more involved in questioning the county officials and holding them accountable, and we have told them we will not go away.”

The group’s members have routinely attended the supervisors’ weekly meetings since April. They have asked for county zoning regulations for these purposes, among others:

  • Increase the minimum distance between new turbines and buildings and property lines.
  • Further restrict the turbines’ noise.
  • Consider the input of residents whose homes lie in the shadows of turbines, which can suffer from a slow, strobe effect.
  • Relegate wind farms to less-productive cropland.

Iowa is a leading wind energy producer. Wind turbines accounted for about 57% of the state’s electricity generation in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the largest percentage of any state. However, some counties — such as Adair and Madison — have adopted de facto moratoriums on new wind farm construction.

In May, the Tama supervisors voted 3-0 to recodify, without modification, their existing ordinance that regulates the turbines. Such reaffirmations are generally required by state law every five years, and the board had last voted in favor of the ordinance in 2010, according to a lawsuit against the supervisors filed recently by Richard Arp. He is a farmer near Clutier in the area of the latest proposed wind project.

“The minimal Tama County ordinances don’t provide safe setbacks from property lines which are necessary to better protect the property rights of non-participating landowners who have not signed easements for wind projects,” Arp said when the group announced the lawsuit late last month. “Tama County’s current ordinance also allows far too much sound to be emitted from wind turbines.”

Arp alleges that the supervisors’ vote in May violated state open meetings laws because there was insufficient notice that the board would be voting on the ordinance and that it did not hold a public hearing to solicit input from residents, which is often required for zoning ordinances.

County officials declined to comment for this article. An attorney who is representing the county did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Another member of the anti-turbine group, Janet Wilson, has filed numerous complaints against the supervisors with the Iowa Public Information Board, alleging the county board has stifled public participation by failing to give proper notice of the May vote, attempting to prevent residents from recording their public meetings and declining to discuss the turbine ordinance with members of the coalition as its own agenda item, among other complaints.

“We’re not going to have any more discussion on this,” Supervisor Dan Anderson told the group during the board’s May 23 meeting, according to a recording of that meeting published by the group.

The county has not yet responded to the lawsuit in district court, according to court records. Arp is asking a judge to void the May vote and to temporarily bar any new wind farms or expansions of existing wind farms until the supervisors hold a public hearing and take another vote on the ordinance.