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After reviewing a draft ordinance to regulate wind energy systems, the town of Clay Banks Windmill Planning Committee continued its search for innovative ways to define some issues.
After discussing shortcomings of the state rules and a seven-year-old Door County ordinance, the committee talked June 30 about some reasons why local authority should take precedence.
The Door County ordinance fails to adequately address some issues, said committee member John Fritschler.
If, for example, blasting is done to install a turbine, it could have an effect on the town’s shallow groundwater in some areas. That could have an impact on residents’ health.
After reviewing municipal wind ordinances elsewhere, Town Chairman Mike Johnson, who chairs the wind committee, said the town will continue to work with its attorney, James Pankratz, and Glenn Stoddard, an Eau Claire attorney who specializes in wind energy issues.
The panel also will use Shawano County’s detailed wind energy ordinance as a model.
The committee will review a revised second draft of its local ordinance July 21 and address such issues as noise, setbacks, abandonment and groundwater protection in more detail.
Ordinances for wind energy should address groundwater protection because the installation of turbines usually involves some level of blasting and excavation, Johnson said.
While several areas in the town of Clay Banks have a high groundwater table, installation of turbines should be particularly important to municipalities north of Sturgeon Bay, where the groundwater table is much closer to the surface, he added.
In the town of Clay Banks, several wells do not exceed 30 feet in depth, while several other areas are sandy and provide less filtration.
If blasting occurs at least four feet below the surface, Johnson said there could be the potential for seepage into the aquifer and disruption of the water table.
“Clay Banks does not have bedrock,” Johnson said. “But we have a lot of streams. Water runs laterally to feed streams and wetlands. I’m just amazed the county hasn’t even thought of that.”
Noise and setbacks are also issues.
In the past, a five-decibel level for background noise caused by operating turbines has been used as a standard in ordinances, Johnson said. Many turbines range in the area of 65 to 70 decibels when they are in full operation.
I don’t know if I’d want that (noise level) 24-7,” committee member Tom Hintz said.
Although Door County has progressed with its ordinance revisions, he and Johnson said they have some concerns about the county ordinance’s lack of detail on setback requirements.
“It does concern me when you talk about setbacks,” Johnson said. “The county has come a long way with an ordinance that has been very limited on setbacks.”
As well, how long a turbine remains out of production before being abandoned and who would take responsibility to remove that equipment also needs to be looked at, according to Doug Weimer, a member of the committee.
While the current county ordinance requires property owners now must put up a $20,000 bond to abandon facilities, Johnson said that further action needs to be taken to ensure all the costs are being covered.
While the actual cost of abandonment may range between $20,000 and $30,000, he said the town may want to establish to a graduated fee scale that takes the cost of inflation into account to address those situations.
The committee also wants to reduce the period wind energy equipment remains out of production. The county wants to limit that time to between six months and one year.
A turbine can be abandoned if it remains out of production for two years under the county ordinance. However, Johnson said that excludes time for repairs and updates. That could allow the facility to remain out of operation indefinitely.
Aesthetics also have been a concern for town of Clay Banks and other residents of the area.
They prefer to see single turbines in scattered areas to retain the area’s rural beauty, rather than groups of turbines in wind farms.
The committee has been particularly concerned about the state ordinance because of its pro-wind stance and its lack of safety guidelines.
Members have turned to the highly detailed Shawano County wind energy ordinance as a model to look at some of the issues not addressed by either the state or Door County’s wind energy ordinances.
Weimer held up copies of the state and Shawano County’s ordinances. The Shawano County document is about three to four times as thick, he said.
One of his greatest concerns is the speed at which wind development could take place without addressing the issues that come with it, particularly noise, environmental protection and abandonment.
The committee wants to address those and other issues in greater detail when it meets at 8 a.m. on July 21 at the town hall.
By Kurt Rentmeester
4 July 2007
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