Door County released a working draft of an updated wind energy ordinance Thursday evening which seeks to bring an existing county ordinance into compliance with state statutes.
The draft ordinance discussed during the Resource Planning Committee (RPC) meeting regulates wind turbines that are taller than 170 feet, as opposed to 100 feet in the existing ordinance.
The draft ordinance also regulates sound and setback requirements for inhabited structures and roads, and for property, communication and electrical lines.
Wind energy system applicants, under the new ordinance, would also have to submit shadow flicker, blade glint and signal interference studies prior to application approval that identifies problem areas within a one-mile radius of the project site.
The RPC took no action on the draft ordinance, instead tabling the issue while the Door County Planning Department continues to research additional issues, such as signal interference, damage to migratory birds, road damage and stray voltage.
Though release of the working draft drew a crowd at the Thursday evening meeting, public participation is not allowed during the RPC’s regular business meetings.
Once the ordinance has been finalized, public input will be sought during a public hearing.
The county ordinance outlines conditions that must be met in order for a developer to obtain a permit to install a wind turbine.
However, Wis. Statute 66.0403(3)(a), does not require an installer to obtain a permit from a local municipality even when an ordinance is on the books.
Instead, the installer “may apply to an agency for a permit,” according to the statute.
“They can put these things up anyway,” said Grant Thomas, corporation counsel, after meeting state statutes and Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
This position was upheld by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, as explained to the town of Byron, Wis.in a 2005 letter from former Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager.
“The owner of a wind energy system does not need a permit to construct such a system, and such a system can be constructed without prior municipal approval,” Lautenschlager wrote.
Thomas said the county would like the ordinance, “to be as restrictive as possible, but we don’t want to pass an ordinance that’s so cumbersome that people won’t get a permit.”
The county began looking at its existing wind energy ordinance, adopted in 1999, after a group of six local men formed Community Wind Energy LLC with the goal of constructing small clusters of about 400-foot wind turbines in Door County.
The review of the 1999 ordinance revealed a local law that did “not pass legal muster,” Thomas said.
“It’s far more restrictive than the statute allows,” Thomas said – and the state does not allow municipalities to adopt wind energy ordinances that are more stringent than state statutes.
For example, the purpose of the existing county ordinance was to protect visual quality and public health and safety.
The new ordinance drops the “visual quality” element because municipalities can only regulate wind energy systems based upon the protection of public health and safety.
By Deb Fitzgerald
23 June 2007
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