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County tables wind energy ordinance; More time needed to study RPC recommendation  

The Door County Board of Supervisors tabled until January a proposed, countywide wind energy ordinance that would regulate all wind turbines exceeding 170 feet.

The supervisors said they wanted the extra month to study the ordinance recommended by the Resource Planning Committee Dec. 13.

The decision to table the issue came after an earlier vote when the supervisors shot down the ordinance.

Later in the meeting, the supervisors brought the ordinance back up for reconsideration, which led to the vote to table the ordinance until January.

The issues of contention for the supervisors who voted to table the ordinance were the noise maximums and the setback requirements.

They are the same issues that the town of Clay Banks has objected to throughout the county’s process of revising a current wind energy ordinance that’s been on the books since 2001.

The ordinance states that audible sounds from the turbines shall not exceed 55 decibels outside at property lines, or 45 decibels inside occupied structures.

Grant Thomas, corporation counsel, said he based those maximums upon Environment Protection Agency standards and other state sources.

Additionally, planning department staff recorded noise levels at the Kewaunee County wind turbines and the RPC found the results of that informal study acceptable.

Several supervisors didn’t agree.

“At 55 decibels outside, you won’t hear the birds singing anymore, and point 45 decibels in a bedroom at night, and see how well you sleep,” said Paul DeWitt, supervisor for Gardner and a part of Nasewaupee.

The proposed ordinance contains distinct setbacks for inhabited structures, property lines, public and private roads, telephone and electrical lines and critical communications systems.

For example, the setback proposed for inhabited structures would be no less than the greater of two times the total height of the turbine, or 1,000 feet.

County Board Chairman Charlie Most suggested the supervisors simply amend the ordinance to their satisfaction, rather than send it back to the RPC – which was first considered – or wait another month.

But the supervisors did not take up Most’s suggestion and specify which setback requirements they objected to, or what noise maximums they wanted to see.

RPC members expressed frustration with this lack of specificity.

The RPC and county staff have been revising the ordinance for the past nine months.

This revision process has included research, interviews with Kewaunee County residents who have wind turbines on their properties and listening to seven hours of public testimony from both opponents and proponents of wind energy in general and the ordinance revisions specifically.

“There were other opportunities to have these things come to our attention and to have it come up at the last minute – it’s disappointing,” said RPC member Bob Ryan, a supervisor for Clay Banks and a part of Forestville.

The revisions to the 2001 wind energy ordinance have been undertaken to bring the current ordinance into compliance with state statutes, and to “fill in some blanks where we didn’t regulate certain things,” Thomas said.

For example, the county’s current ordinance regulates the visual appearance of proposed wind turbines, which is not allowed by state statutes.

Some of the blanks filled in are those pertaining to noise, shadow flicker and signal interference.

The current ordinance is silent on those issues. By contrast, the proposed ordinance sets some parameters and also requires studies of all three phenomena both before the permit is granted for a turbine, and after the facility is operational.

State statutes have driven the county’s revision process.

The state permits all counties, cities, towns and villages to regulate solar and wind energy systems, provided those regulations serve to preserve or protect public safety; do not significantly increase the cost or decrease the efficiency of the system; and allow for an alternative system of comparable cost and efficiency.

The statutes, “expressly limit the authority of the county to regulate wind facilities,” Thomas said.

“We have to tie our regulations specifically to public health or safety and we have the burden of proof that they relate to those areas,” he said.

The ordinance would regulate all towns in Door County. However, opposition has come largely from Clay Banks ever since local wind developers have expressed interest in the town as a feasible site for wind turbines.

The town has expressed dissatisfaction with the county’s research process. The town also wants greater setback requirements and lower noise level maximums.

Supervisors who voted to table the proposed ordinance indicated they’d heard Clay Banks’ concerns.

“There appears to be so much disagreement with that group, I’d like to see us make one more effort to try and work it out,” said Ken Fisher, supervisor for Sturgeon Bay.

Clay Banks is developing its own ordinance that would incorporate the standards the town desires.

“Clay Banks can enact regulations that restrict wind energy systems,” Thomas said. “My understanding is that a county, city, town or village may place restrictions on wind energy facilities if they so choose. But the statute is silent if the county does it, does it preempt a town’s ordinance. My contention is ‘no.’”

By Deb Fitzgerald

Door County Advocate

19 December 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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