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University of Iowa surveys Linn County residents on wind turbines

A rotor assembly is moved into position as construction continues at Alliant Energy's English Farms Wind Farm near Deep River, Iowa on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Once completed, the farm with 69 wind turbines will produce around 170 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 60,000 houses. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A rotor assembly is moved into position as construction continues at Alliant Energy's English Farms Wind Farm near Deep River, Iowa on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Once completed, the farm with 69 wind turbines will produce around 170 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 60,000 houses. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — As Iowa’s growing wind industry continues to advance eastward, some University of Iowa students are asking Linn County residents for their thoughts on turbines.

Linn County has partnered with the UI to seek input on issues surrounding renewable energy, specifically large-scale wind farms.

“The project is about evaluating the potential for wind as a renewable energy source in Linn County, and that might not seem like something that had been possible even a few years ago, but as technology in and around the wind industry improves and evolves, it seems more and more possible,” said Travis Kraus, director of economic development and sustainability with the University of Iowa’s Office of Outreach and Engagement.

In anticipation of wind developments, Kraus said gathering public input is important to identify concerns or educational opportunities.

To do so, UI students have opened a survey to gather public feedback. The survey at www.linncounty.org will be open until Sunday.

“Survey responses will help inform our understanding of public attitudes regarding important energy issues, in particular the public’s perception of the benefits and impacts of wind farm placement and construction on the natural environment, the transportation and utility infrastructure and more. We can then use this information to aid our review of any proposed wind farm in the future,” Les Beck, Linn County planning and development director, said in a Tuesday news release.

Beck said the county’s zoning regulations include rules for wind turbine development. He added there is no application for wind turbines before the county at this time.

“We’re just trying to look ahead and be proactive,” he said Wednesday.

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More than a third of Iowa’s energy generation comes from wind, with the industry representing more than 7,300 megawatts. The Iowa Environmental Council estimated late last year that 2,600 megawatts were under construction and another roughly 1,800 megawatts were in the stage of advanced development.

By the end of 2017, close to half the state’s 99 counties were home to utility-scale wind turbines or had such projects in development.

The Iowa Environmental Council and Iowa’s Center for Rural Affairs have encouraged — and created guides for — counties to create wind energy ordinances. Doing so helps remove ambiguity and emotion from a county’s vote on proposed wind projects, officials have said.

The survey should help gauge the public’s thoughts, Kraus said.

“That’s going to be informative in terms of how to evaluate proposals that could come in the future,” he said. “Some of it is just kind of learning what people think.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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