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Dakota County tables action on wind farm moratorium

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Wakefield wind farm

A wind turbine is built in August 2018 northeast of Wakefield, Nebraska, in the Rattlesnake Creek wind project in Dixon County.

DAKOTA CITY -- Dakota County leaders have decided more study and public input is needed before voting on a moratorium on wind farm developments.

The Dakota County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted 4-0 to table a resolution that would have prohibited wind energy developers from building in the county. Commissioner Tony Gomez was absent.

Commissioners agreed that because of restrictions in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the ability for county citizens to provide input has been limited. The Dakota County Courthouse is currently closed to the public, except by appointment, and people also are choosing to stay home in order to limit their potential exposure to COVID-19.

"In light of the current situation, we didn't think it was prudent to make a decision without more public input and more research," commissioner Janet Gill said.

The subject of a moratorium arose earlier this year while the county updated its zoning ordinances governing wind energy systems. The resolution considered Monday said that the board had "deemed it necessary to impose a moratorium" after considering public information provided during public hearings on the zoning amendments. County officials have said they have not been approached by wind energy developers about building a wind farm in Dakota County.

Gill said the board recognized on Monday that visits to wind farms like the Rattlesnake Creek project in neighboring Dixon County and more discussions with other counties that have wind farms would be beneficial before making a decision.

"I think everybody's positive about clean energy, but we definitely want to make sure our residents are safe. We need to do some more research. We don't have all the facts we need," Gill said.

When those visits and public meetings might take place depends on when people now taking virus-related precautions feel more comfortable about moving around and attending meetings.

The board's decision was applauded by Josh Moenning, director of New Power Nebraska, a renewable energy development organization that promotes and develops wind energy projects. The Norfolk, Nebraska, mayor, Moenning participated in the meeting via teleconference.

"I think it's the right call," he said in a statement emailed to the Journal. "This decision requires a fair, full hearing in order for public officials to have the benefit of all perspectives. There are several examples of Nebraska counties today realizing the significant economic benefits of new business investment in clean energy generation." 

Dakota County Clerk Joan Spencer said three county residents addressed the board Monday on the moratorium. Two spoke in favor of it, and the third was neutral, Spencer said.

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Randy Fredericksen was elected mayor in April 2015 and won re-election in 2017. Prior to serving as mayor, he had been the city's public works superintendent for 33 years. 

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