After more than a year of research and discussion by committee, the Trempealeau County Board recently approved a wind ordinance that essentially would prevent commercial wind turbines from being built in the county.
The ordinance requires developers to place wind turbines taller than 150 feet one mile or more from neighboring residences, schools, hospitals and businesses. It’s described as the longest setback distance imposed to date by a local government in the state, which board member Doug Winters says is unfortunate.
Winters, who is from Trempealeau, voted against the proposed ordinance Dec. 17 after he and a handful of others attempted to amend the ordinance. That amendment was rejected.
The ordinance passed on a 10-6 vote.
“I voted against it because it was too restrictive,” Winters said.
Paul Halderson of Galesville also voted against the ordinance and thinks it’s too restrictive.
“I’m greatly disappointed that Trempealeau County can not do their share to participate in green energy,” he said. “I spoke in the meeting that it’s our responsibility to do our fair share.”
Halderson said developers will now write Trempealeau County off and move to other counties, but Winters said he thinks the decision may be overturned at some point.
In a statement to the Trempealeau County Board, Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director, said the ordinance “steers Trempealeau County toward a head-on collision with state energy policies, which designate wind power as a preferred energy source.”
RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide nonprofit organization, advocates for public policies and private initiatives to support renewable energy.
State policy favors wind power because “it has shown itself to be a clean, safe and affordable energy option that helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce global warming emissions,” according to Ryan Schryver of Clean Wisconsin, an advocacy organization for clean water, air, and energy.
By voting for the ordinance, Charles Zauner of Galesville said he is not against wind power but for the health of people in the county.
“When (the concerns) first came out I thought some of these things were arbitrary – kind of ridiculous. But I found it was some pretty sound research,” he said.
Zauner, who was not on the committee that did the research but who agrees with the findings, said noise is a factor, as is ice falling from the turbine blades and shadow flickers from sun shining on the blades, causing a shadow to dance on the ground.
“Before the vote I sat down with one of the members (of the committee) and looked up their research, and any questions I had they supplied me with the answers,” Zauner said. “I felt relatively comfortable voting the way I did.
“They did a lot of research, and just because we’re the only county taking this step it doesn’t bother me. We’re here for the public health of our county. That’s what I looked at when making my decision.”
According to state statute 66.0401, proving health concerns is the only way county board members could effectively pass such an ordinance. The statute states that no county may place restrictions on the installation or use of a wind energy system unless it serves to preserve or protect the public health or safety; does not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency; or allows for an alternative system of comparable cost and efficiency.
Jim Naleid, managing director of AgWind Energy Partners, said the ordinance originated after a landowner outside of Ettrick contacted him about surveying his land for placement of wind turbines.
Naleid applied for a conditional use permit so a meteorological tower could be placed on the land to take wind data. If there’s not enough wind, or specific velocity of wind, placing wind turbines would not be productive.
By word of mouth, Naleid began receiving calls from other residents who were interested. By that time, opponents of the wind turbines were making themselves known. Naleid said opponents “rallied with misinformation.”
With no ordinance on the books, the County Board put a moratorium on wind turbines to do research and draft an ordinance. Once it got to that point, there was no turning back, Naleid said.
“For a county to take a stance out of touch with the rest of the world, it just got to a point where you could hardly make sense of it anymore,” Naleid said.
By Alyssa Waters
28 December 2007
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