The town of Clay Banks wants greater restrictions placed on wind energy facilities, whereas a local wind development company calls those restrictions excessive.
Between the two lies Door County’s efforts to revise a Wind Energy Ordinance that’s been on the books since 1999 but never used.
The Door County Resource Planning Committee discussed Nov. 15 the draft ordinance that’s been undergoing a face lift since March.
The county undertook the revision so that the ordinance would protect health and safety, yet withstand a legal challenge by a wind developer.
The supervisors made suggestions to clarify or change certain language in the latest draft before tabling the issue for another discussion in December.
Clay Banks is also in the process of creating a wind energy ordinance.
“We’re concerned the county’s effort is not going to protect the health and well-being of our community,” said Mike Johnson, Clay Banks town chairman, during a telephone interview.
The town began researching the renewable resource after Community Wind Energy, LLC, a local company founded by six Door County men, showed interest in locating commercial wind turbines within the town’s borders.
The town’s draft is stricter than the county’s.
For example, maximum noise levels from outside an inhabited structure can’t exceed 35 decibels in the Clay Banks ordinance draft, whereas the county allows a maximum of 55 decibels outside, 45 inside.
Clay Banks based its maximum upon a German standard for “rural nighttime environments,” and a study on the health effects of wind turbine noise, according to the town’s draft ordinance.
Grant Thomas, Door County corporation counsel, made a distinction between noise levels that were a nuisance or annoying versus noise levels in the 80-decibel range, he said, that cause real health problems.
“I think we’re as close to the edge (with a 55-decibel maximum) as we can get and still credibly argue for public health and safety,” Thomas said during the Nov. 15 meeting.
To demonstrate what 55 decibels sounds like, Becky Kerwin from the Door County Planning Department recorded the supervisors’ voices during the RPC meeting with a decibel meter.
Standing from about 15 feet away, the loudest voices peaked at 60 decibels.
The noise maximums set by the draft ordinance might be conversational sounds, said RPC Chairman, Merrell Runquist, but wind turbines are, “not like conversation.”
“This is 24/7 noise,” Runquist said. “Your conversation was recorded at 60 (decibels). But you’re not going to talk all night long.”
Setback requirements from inhabited residences also separate the Clay Banks and Door County draft ordinances.
A wind turbine would have to be sited 2,640 feet away from the nearest inhabited structure within Clay Banks.
The county setback from an inhabited structure is two times the total height of the turbine, or 1,000 feet, whichever is greater.
Chris Olson, of Community Wind Energy, LLC, said the provisions of the Clay Banks ordinance are “excessive,” and that town members aren’t looking at “the big picture.”
“Thousands of these have been installed and the industry is growing at the greatest pace compared to other energy producers,” Olson said. “If there were these problems, these things wouldn’t continue to be installed.”
Not that the county setback requirements are ideal, according to Olson.
A wind developer would have to build a turbine in the middle of an unoccupied, 40-acre tract to meet the county requirements, Olson said.
“The catch-all we wanted was they could reduce setbacks through legal easements,” Olson said. “Without that, you’d need 160 acres (to build a turbine), or 40 acres squared.”
The draft the RPC discussed was the first created since the committee heard nearly six hours of public input during two previous meetings.
On the one hand, Johnson said the county “went backward” and loosened restrictions as a result of the public input.
Johnson based his opinion on the increased maximum noise level, and the inclusion of a “fall zone” distance, as determined by a certified engineer, that was added as an alternative setback requirement for property lines, roads, and telephone and electrical lines.
On the other hand, Olson said the ordinance risks attracting not community-based and oriented wind developers like his company, but the large energy developers with deeper pockets.
“The more restrictions imposed, whether strict or not, the larger the project gets, and the more inviting it is for an outside developer,” Olson said.
“I hope the county is aware of that. The state has to produce 10 percent of its energy with renewable sources by 2015, and we think 90 percent of that will come from wind. So it won’t be long before the utilities are really ramping-up their development of wind.”
By Deb Fitzgerald
24 November 2007
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