“We’re very much in favor of alternative energy solutions,” longtime East Fork resident Carl Bontrager said Tuesday morning as the Blaine County Board of Commissioners opened their first meeting of 2007 with a session for unscheduled public comment. “But I was very surprised to find out that windmills are an apparently an allowed use as an accessory structure in Blaine County and doesn’t require any neighbor notification, hearings or anything.”
What? Ultra-progressive Blaine County with someone actually questioning the appropriateness of wind-generated energy? Bontrager asked the commission to consider what -besides guilt-free electricity- a windmill can produce.
“My number one concern is noise,” Bontrager said. “Turbines do make noise and it’s variable. Noise crosses property lines and I assume they’d be operating 24 hours a day. And lights: What lights would be on the tower? Another thing is the material that the windmill is made out of. If the blades are reflective at all, I could see a neighbor getting a strobe-like affect which could make it almost impossible to use their back yard. Then of course [there’s] lot size; would they be appropriate for some zoning areas and not for others? Would they be appropriate for Hulen Meadows (as he looked at Commission Chair Sarah Michael, who lives there) in the Heatherlands (looking at Bowman)?
“I just think there are some issues and ““apparently- the county doesn’t have any rules regarding [windmill impacts] on county residents,” Bontrager continued. “Where can they be put on a lot? If I had ten acres, I’d probably put them back in a far corner so they wouldn’t have much impact on my residence, but that might be very close to a neighbor’s home where they might have a huge impact on him. Another thing is how many are allowed? If one is good, are two better? How about three or four?”
Bontrager also wondered what affect they might have on wildlife.
“We know they that they’re not going to affect the crow and the magpie populations -nothing does,” Bontrager joked. “But, you know -songbirds, raptors. Would there be an affect? Would there be an affect on other wildlife through noise or motion? What about nesting areas? Animals hear different noises than we do. Would it drive neighborhood dogs crazy?
“One is proposed very near to Sagebrush Arena where they have special-needs riding programs. And safety issues: Would they be an attractive nuisance? I remember as a kid finding great delight in climbing on the barn windmill even though I’d been told not to. It was a lot of fun sitting up on that platform looking around the surrounding country. I survived, through my cousin broke his arm, but that’s another story”¦”
“A 35-foot structure is one thing, but one with whirling blades at the top of it, I think that’s a little different than a house or something like that,” Bontrager concluded. “I’d like to see commissioners be a little pro-active on this and look into some of the issues a windmill can produce.
Valley resident Kathy Lynn sat beside Bontrager and echoed his concerns.
“[What’s] the appropriate place for these to be?” Lynn inquired. “How big a piece of property would accommodate these without impacting the neighbors? This issue, the commissioners should really have a look at it.”
Windmills could be a non-issue here
Bontrager conceded Wood River Valley windspeeds are so small that the valley has no history of even historic windmills from earlier times. Now tax credits and technology improvements have combined with escalating oil and coal prices to make small-scale energy generation increasingly attractive.
Still, he said, how might we be pro-active in an appropriate way?
Commissioner Tom Bowman noted Commissioner-elect Larry Schoen hosted an anemometer ““a mechanism that measures wind speed- on his south-county farm for a year, only to learn the average windspeed even along Highway 20 is just below what would support an investment in one or more windmills.
And ““not counting alpine mountaintops- that’s where Blaine County’s winds are windiest.
“I think it’s a serious issue,” Commission Chair Sarah Michael said. “We’ve passed a cell tower ordinance that would regulate 35-foot cell towers because of the visual impact on those in the valley. In my former life, I ran the wind energy program for the California Energy Commission and when we did a wind assessment ““the same as Larry Schoen did- we tested the wind resource and there’s really nowhere in the valley that’s commercially viable for wind.”
Michael then noted Bontrager’s idea will be carried forward.
“We’re going to be meeting with our planning and zoning staff this afternoon,” Michael noted. “There have been some emails about [the envisioned windmill along Buttercup Road] and we’ll get an update from them this afternoon about this issue. I agree with being proactive about this.”
SunValleyOnline will learn what recommendations come from the Tuesday afternoon staff meeting and amend them to this story. Stay tuned”¦
By Gary Stivers
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