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Wind energy debate goes to county level

The debate has simmered for five years over America’s first offshore wind farm proposed for Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

Some say the 24-square-mile, 130-turbine, Cape Wind development will spoil one of the country’s most majestic expanses of open water. Others say it will provide a fine source of renewable energy.

There are no projects like Cape Wind being proposed in Door County – the Peninsula is still grappling with the possibility of land-based models.

Yet whether it’s the spoiling of pristine water or of the the pristine Peninsula, the arguments for and against wind energy amount to the same.

Both sides of that argument exist within the Peninsula, and are represented on the Door County Resource Planning Commitee.

They met Thursday evening during their discussion of the final draft of the countywide wind energy ordinance.

The committee has been overseeing revision of the document since March. But public comments are not allowed during the RPC’s regular business meetings.

So while wind turbine discussions have taken place at the local municipal level, the opportunity for a countywide conversation hasn’t happened – until now.

The RPC effectively finished tweaking the ordinance, and voted unanimously to move the final draft to a public hearing.

The county has minimum posting requirements of 30 days before the public hearing can be held.

What the public will have is an opportunity to comment on an ordinance that pertains to wind turbines exceeding 170 feet.

The $500 permit process requires an applicant to submit a sound study, a shadow flicker and blade glint study, a critical communications study, a life cycle and decommissioning plan and proof of financial assurance.

“I encourage wind energy,” said Hugh Mulliken, supervisor for parts of Baileys Harbor, Gibraltar and Liberty Grove. “Perhaps it’s not totally cost-effective, but the more you add financial burden on these things, the less cost-effective they become.”

The turbines must be set back from the nearest residence, school, hospital, church, or public library a distance no less than 1,000 feet.

“I’m opposed to these things in Door County,” said Merrell Runquist, RPC chairman. “I think this is too close for people to live. But why belabor the point because it accounts for nothing.”

Wisconsin counties are not allowed to craft wind energy ordinances that are more restrictive than state statutes.

And the final draft of the ordinance the committee scheduled for a public hearing has reached that, “salient point.

“We’ve reached the point where (the ordinance) is as restrictive as the statute allows,” said Grant Thomas, corporation counsel.

When the RPC holds a public hearing, further public comment is not allowed once the ordinance reaches the County Board floor.

The committee members expressed interest in altering that policy for the wind turbine issue.

“With most ordinances we don’t allow public comment at County Board, but this is a unique situation,” Thomas said. “Certainly we can vote by a majority so it’s possible to have a public comment period (on the wind energy ordinance) at the County Board.”

By Deb Fitzgerald

Green Bay Press-Gazette

18 August 2007