Anticipating a higher demand for wind energy, Benton County is making it easier for landowners to erect taller windmills.
The county board Tuesday changed its land-use ordinance to allow the county’s planning commission to decide how tall an energy-producing wind turbine can be.
Previously, the ordinance set strict limits on how tall such structures could be – generally no higher than 100 feet in industrial areas and 60 feet in business or farm areas. Exceptions required a variance from the Board of Adjustment.
The rule change removes the limit, allowing the planning commission more flexibility when deciding appropriate height, said Chelle Benson, county development director.
The changes were sparked by a Foley business, Johnson Excavating Inc., that wants to erect a wind turbine higher than 100 feet, Benson said.
Wind energy is expected to be a growing commodity in Minnesota in upcoming years. This year the Legislature passed a law requiring most Minnesota energy companies to provide 25 percent of their power using renewable sources by 2025.
Benton County isn’t typically mentioned as a “windy” county capable of supporting large-scale wind farms like Buffalo Ridge in southwestern Minnesota. But Benson said she has heard of discussion about a possible wind farm in the Rice or Royalton area.
More likely, the county will start to see a growing number of individual wind turbines to provide electricity for a home, farm or business, Benson said.
Wind turbines will require a conditional-use permit, Benson said. That means the planning commission will consider where a proposed turbine would be, how the surrounding land is being used and what other structures are nearby, before approving it, she said.
Jeff and Pat Johnson voiced support for Benton County’s ordinance changes in an e-mail. The Foley-area farmers said they hope to erect a wind turbine in the next year or two and think the ordinance should allow turbines at least 120 feet high.
County commissioners voiced concerns that tall windmills could pose a hazard to aircraft. The ordinance will include a requirement that all towers meet Federal Aviation Administration standards.
By Kirsti Marohn
18 July 2007
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