The wind energy race is on in Madison County.
Three companies are vying to put up towers to test the wind near Norris Hill, a first step toward building wind farms.
But although the county is strongly supportive of developing wind energy, commissioners this week unanimously denied two requests to waive an ordinance requiring local, state and federal agencies to sign off on towers higher than 100 feet.
The denial for the waiver requests for Sagebrush Capital, out of Jackson, Wyo., and Coyote Energy out of Columbia Falls comes several weeks after commissioners denied a similar request from California-based Zebuln.
County Commissioner Dave Schulz said the decision was meant to not only require a review, but also to treat everyone fairly.
“We feel that we need to adhere to the ordinance procedure and require that they go ahead and fulfill it,” he said. “One of three or four weeks ago was denied and we felt it was important to stay consistent with that decision.” The companies are interested in building wind farms in the Norris Hill See WIND, Page A5 Wind …
Continued from Page A1 area. Zebuln representative Les Brown told commissioners his company has already signed leases with three area ranchers.
The company is planning up to a 150-megawatt wind farm that would send power into an existing power line.
Sagebrush is proposing a much smaller project of 20 to 25 megawatts, said Paul Kimball, company president, in a telephone interview Friday.
Martin Wilde, a principal in Coyote, declined to comment on his company’s plans in the area.
But all three companies need to gather over a year’s worth of wind data to lure investors to the projects. They have proposed building towers to install wind measuring devices that would record data on speeds, consistency and other factors.
However, Madison County in 2003 passed an ordinance requiring all cell phone, wind and other towers taller than 100 feet to first get a permit before proceeding. Applicants are required to notify up to 10 agencies to see if the towers are acceptable, including the County Airport Board, Road Department and Weed Board.
The ordinance was prompted by cell phone towers that went up close to the airports near Ennis and Twin Bridges, Schulz said. He pointed out that even though those were approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, local pilots were spooked that they could be hazards so close to the runways.
Schulz said although the ordinance requires some review, county planner Doris Fisher estimated the permits could be ready within 60 days.
And Commissioner Jim Hart said even though the test towers are temporary, the sheer number proposed and growing interest in wind power makes it important that they go through the review for safety.
“We could have temporary structures up there for 10 years,” he said.
By Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard
16 April 2007
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