Conscious of the potential impact of wind turbines on rural residents, the Clay Banks Town Board formed a six-member panel to study the issue after approving a one-year interim control ordinance to delay establishing such facilities.
The interim ordinance approved June 14 established a one-year delay on building nonresidential wind turbines exceeding 170 feet and regulated use of equipment that converts wind energy into electrical power for sale, resale or onsite use.
Town Chairman Mike Johnson said the board was unaware of a proposal by Community Wind Energy LLC of Sturgeon Bay to site three turbines before it received a Federal Aviation Administration notice in March approving the plan.
CWE never applied for any permits and the FCC application was made as part of an effort to learn about the process, according to Guy Fortin, a member of CWE, a Sturgeon Bay limited liability company.
Looking back, Johnson also said he and other board members were “blindsided” by CWE’s proposal.
Having attended a couple of informational meetings, Johnson is concerned that groundwork has been completed by CWE to establish wind turbine sites, while a larger percentage of the town was unaware of it.
Fortin said CWE had been having meetings in various towns around the county and held more than 30 small group meetings in Door County on that and other proposals.
Doug Weimer, a Clay Banks study committee member, said he has received comments from both sides, including many of about 170 residents who signed a petition opposing large scale wind energy.
“The argument has been made to me that if you’re opposed to wind turbines, you’re uninformed,” Weimer said. “I’ve found you’re under informed. There are a lot of issues that have not (yet) been addressed.”
Fortin said the information in the petition focused on the negative aspects on wind turbines and failed to provide accurate information on the proposal.
At about the same time, the board learned the Door County Resource Planning Committee would base revisions to its ordinance on the state’s pro-wind model.
Johnson said the revisions could have relaxed the standards of the county’s 1999 wind energy systems ordinance.
“This issue needs to have a full discussion and a full debate because whatever we decide is going to impact our communities for decades,” Johnson said. “It’s not an issue where, if we make a mistake, we can correct it next week or next year.”
Municipalities must establish ordinances that are directly related to public health and safety, though, Door County Planner Mariah Goode said.
Ordinances that address issues outside that may be subject to court action. Manitowoc County’s wind energy ordinance already has been challenged twice in court.
Although municipalities generally can pass ordinances with requirements exceeding those of state ordinances, that policy doesn’t apply to wind energy or to efforts by the Clay Banks committee, she said.
”If they’re only looking at the current county ordinance, it doesn’t make sense to do that,” Goode said. “They may want to wait and look at a revised county ordinance once it’s adopted.”
In its first month, the six-member Clay Banks committee used Shawano County’s detailed wind energy ordinance as a model for discussion. Johnson also asked the RPC to study the document.
Clay Banks committee members include John Fritschler, a former town supervisor whose interest and background on the issue earned him a place on the panel; and Town Board Supervisor Mark Heimbecher, who said he believes the RPC is rushing to pass the county ordinance.
Heimbecher wants the RPC to spend more time on the issue and view it as part of Smart Growth legislation, which addresses utilities and community facilities in one of its chapters.
Kris Jensen, another member, is familiar with European wind turbine systems, while Tom Hintz, a high school teacher, has a background in physics and is familiar with the impact of sound on the body.
Noise, installation, communications, abandonment and location are a few of the issues the committee is studying. All of them can be related to health and safety, Johnson said.
Supporters of wind energy claim any noise caused by a turbine may be cancelled out by background noise – provided that background involves wind of at least 17 mph, Hintz said.
An operating wind turbine may seem louder, depending on the direction of the wind.
Other factors such as terrain of the surrounding area can determine background noise. In low level noise situations, one may hear vibration, rather than any sound.
Before any wind turbines are installed, Hintz said he would like to see a study on background noise in the vicinity. Noise levels should be determined by the location, rather than an arbitrary decibel number.
Groundwater contamination could occur during excavation for a foundation, particularly if the thin layer of soil over the Niagara Escarpment is disturbed, Johnson said. Any piece of open farmland could be fair game to site a turbine, according to the state ordinance.
CWE wants to be aboveboard and believes in the community aspects of the project, Fortin said.
CWE would prefer to arrange financing through local sources so the benefits come back to the county, for example.
Turbines will have an impact on signals involving future digital communications systems, Weimer said.
If narrow banding is done or radio frequencies are cut in half by 2013, turbines may impede communications, he added. When those bands are in half in another decade, or 2022, digital radios will be required.
Obstructions, such as turning wind turbine blades, will cut into digital code signals, he said. If all or portions of signals are missing, words or parts of words will be missing in messages.
The county already has established a critical communications corridor of 1,000 feet. Turbine blades would have to be at least 500 feet from either side of a corridor.
Committee members are questioning why the RPC doubled the time limit for abandonment listed in the state ordinance, as well as periods for updates and repairs.
Johnson said the committee wants to support a policy that will require a lien be taken out against the property owner of a turbine site, should there not be enough money available for removal.
The town also wants to require a surety bond be posted that guarantees money be available for removal 20 to 30 years in the future.
Some members of the committee are asking why CWE would want to install wind turbines in the town of Clay Banks.
Jensen, who grew up overseas in Denmark, said that nation and Holland and Germany have been leaders in development of wind energy since the 1980s.
In the nation of Denmark, wind turbines are sited offshore where winds blow for longer periods of time.
Weimer questioned why developers would want to site facilities in the town of Clay Banks, the eastern side of the county. He questions whether changes to the state and county ordinance were made to developers’ advantage
Some committee members believe small rural towns are being targeted by wind developers because there are fewer residents who are less likely to be familiar with the pros and cons of wind turbine development.
By Kurt Rentmeester
4 August 2007
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