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Turbine committee plans to go to board

Calumet County’s ad hoc committee which has been studying possible changes to the county’s wind turbine ordinance is ready to make recommendations to the County Board, members said Monday.

The committee and county officials are fine tuning a summary of those recommendations for presentation at next Tuesday’s meeting of the County Board. They said it is likely that any vote(s) on the recommendations would not take place before the January County Board meeting.

The committee has met on a weekly basis for the last several months discussing all aspects and concerns related to wind turbines and the county’s ordinance. Members of the committee were selected by Calumet County Board Chairman Merlin Gentz, who has also served as chairman of the study committee. The County Board authorized the formation of the committee after it placed a moratorium on further development of wind turbines in the county.

Perhaps the committee’s most important recommendation will be to change the minimum setback from 1,000 feet in the county’s current wind energy ordinance (Chapter 79) to 1,800 feet from “sensitive receptors.” Sensitive receptors, as defined in the committee’s recommendations, would be a uniform definition rather than continually citing individual land uses. Sensitive receptors would include structures intended for four-season human habitation, parks, golf courses, schools, daycare centers, elderly care facilities and businesses, among other uses cited in the recommendations.

Noise studies play key role

The setback figure is somewhat tied in to the committee’s recommendation on sound/noise limits. Two expert studies indicated that in order to meet those noise requirements, turbines would have to be at least 1,800 feet from a sensitive receptor. Committee members Dan Hedrich and Ron Dietrich pointed out that some states require setbacks of a half mile (2,640 feet) and that turbines in Montfort are at least 1,800 feet from the nearest residence. Those residents do not report any sound problems and the Montfort site is often held up by wind turbine developers as a model site.

The committee is recommending that the county adopt noise standards which would require the sound emitted by wind energy systems to be not greater than 5 dBA above the background noise level for the quietest period of the day measured during a pre-build noise study. The county’s current ordinance limits noise to 50 dBA measured at a residence. The committee is saying all areas have their own specific levels of ambient noise and wind turbines should not increase that noise by more than 5 dBA.

Hedrich said the wording of the proposed noise standard is the same as that found in the state’s proposed wind energy model which was introduced in February but has not yet been finalized. Hedrich and Dietrich said noise seems to be the biggest concern of people who might find themselves living near one or more wind turbines and, in the end, the noise standard might provide them the most protection.

Also receiving unanimous consent from the committee is the addition of a property value protection plan. The plan would apply to non-participating property owners whose property boundaries are within three-fourths of a mile of a property hosting a wind energy system.

The protection plan-based on ones being used in the Town of Chilton for both wind energy (proposed) and the large landfill-would require wind energy system operators to purchase any affected properties which do not receive any offers to purchase after being listed with a licensed real estate broker for at least 180 days. In addition, if an affected property owner sells his or her property for less than fair market value, the wind turbine operator would have to pay the property owner the difference between the sale price and fair market value. Appraisals would be done to determine the property value as if wind turbines had never been erected in an area.

Committee members said another key element is wind turbine spacing. There is nothing in the county’s current ordinance on this subject, but the committee is proposing that there be at least five rotor diameters in between turbines placed in prevailing winds and 3.5 rotor diameters in non-prevailing winds. Committee members said as turbines get placed closer together, they become less efficient.

Sheriff considering other issues

As for issues concerning E-911 communications and flight paths for emergency medical helicopters, the committee decided to allow the Sheriff’s Department to devise recommendations in both of these areas. Committee members did, however, spend hours in and out of meetings talking with pilots and others involved with these issues. As of Monday committee members said they did not know what the Sheriff’s Department would propose but there have been discussions of creating and using corridors for both the E-911 microwave paths and the medical helicopters.

The committee is also planning to make recommendations on the following issues:

Decommissioning plan and assurance-Wind developers would need to hold a performance bond of $50,000 per full rated megawatt with an A-rated firm per turbine if they do not have a plan for decommissioning (or tearing down) turbines. If they do have a plan, they would be required to have a $25,000 minimum bond per full rated megawatt per turbine to cover the costs of decommissioning turbines. Most turbines proposed for this area are 1.5 megawatts, Dietrich said.

Decommissioning review and transfer-The decommission plan will be reviewed every five years and require a consumer price index adjustment. Companies also would have to file an application with the Calumet County Planning, Zoning and Land Information office if they plan to transfer ownership or controlling interest of a wind energy facility.

Groundwater-Five recommendations were proposed by Eugene McLeod and Matthew Marmor to the committee which, in turn, plans to seek county approval. They include practices to divert surface runoff from entering wind energy system (WES) foundations, proper herbicide and pesticide management, utilization of practices to address potential cable trench settling, safe equipment cleaning and washout of concrete trucks during construction, and prohibitions against routine vehicle maintenance on-site.

Neighborhood review and blasting-Neighbors within three-fourths of a mile of a property boundary of a proposed WES would be notified of the wind energy facility application and any scheduled blasting. The current county ordinance calls for notification only within one-half mile.

Penalties and enforcement-The words “per turbine” are proposed to be added to the existing county ordinance.

Property rights-Any parcel of land with a valid building or sanitary permit on file as of the date of the issue of a WES siting permit would be treated the same as any existing residence, business property or sensitive receptor under this recommendation.

Setbacks-No setback provisions from municipal boundaries are in the committee’s proposals. Setbacks from parks would be 1,400 feet, and from railroads setbacks would be 1.1 times the height of the turbine.

Shadow flicker-The committee recommends a maximum of 90 seconds per day, or 10 hours per year of shadow/flicker effects within a 100 foot radius of a sensitive receptor. Turbines must be shut down at certain times of the day or year if shadow/flicker is a problem with any sensitive receptor. In addition, roads with more than 500 vehicles per day cannot have any shadow or flicker present, and no shadow/flicker would be allowed at any road intersections.

Personal electronics-The committee’s recommendations provide more details for having wind companies respond to residents’ concerns about the impact of wind turbines on their personal devices such as cellphones, internet service, TV reception, etc. Companies would have to respond to complaints within 24 hours and take action within 48 hours. They would then have an additional 72 hours to resolve the problem(s).

In addition to those members already cited, serving on the committee have been Bonnie Casper, Gerhald Hansel, Bill Hansen, Elmer Hanke, Mike Hofberger, Marjorie Nett, Sandra Popp and Dale Voskuil.

By Mark Sherry
TC News editor

Tri-County News

12 December 2007