Baby, the wind must blow. But whether rules about generating electricity from the the wind will go is the question for the Franklin County Planning Commission.
The planners will resume their work on a set of proposed rules for small wind generators when they meet at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Franklin County Annex, 1418 S. Main St.
The proposed lot sizes and setbacks – how far away the generator and tower have to be from property lines and easements – have proved to be the most controversial elements of the proposed rules.
According to the proposed rules, residential wind generators would have height limits and would have to be located on tracts of at least 40 acres, with one generator allowed per 40 acres for larger lots.
A homeowner would need to get a special-use permit to put a generator on tracts of 20 to 40 acres, Larry Walrod, county planner, said.
No generators would be allowed on lots smaller than 20 acres, he said.
The larger sizes are needed because also according to the rules, the generators would have to set back from property lines or easements at least twice the total height of the generator and tower, he said.
The setbacks are designed to mitigate the impact of noise from the generators to neighbors, he said.
“There is a small amount of noise associated with the wind generators,” Walrod said.
Recent studies indicate there could be health problems for people who live next to commercial wind farms because of the constant low-level noise from the generators, he said.
James Wilson, who testified at last month’s meeting, said the noise studies are concerned with giant commercial wind farms and aren’t relevant to the smaller wind generators dealt with in the proposed rules.
Wilson is with Solar-Wind Electric Utilities, a LaCygne-based dealer of alternative energy equipment.
Most new small wind generators have a noise level of 35 to 50 decibels, slightly quieter than a refrigerator, which runs at about 50 to 55 decibels, Wilson said.
Because of the lower noise levels, keeping large lot sizes and setbacks isn’t as critical, he said.
Although Wilson said he believes the county wants to accommodate wind power, the rules concerning the lot sizes and setbacks – especially if the setback rule also applies to the ubiquitous service lines that connect to houses and buildings – the rules could have the effect of preventing most wind generators in the county.
“I want to address the actual facts and make this an energy solution that’s available to all of the county’s residents and not those who have the economic ability to buy 40 acres or more and build a new house on it,” Wilson said.
In California, Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have adopted “small wind” enthusiastically, generators have been successfully installed in areas as small as a half-acre in size, he said.
The planners began drafting rules after an Appanoose woman sought to build a wind generator at her home.
Walrod had to come up with a back-door method that classified her property as a utility and then the county issued her a special-use permit as a utility. The Appanoose generator was erected and has been operating for two weeks.
Hers is the only small wind generator in the county that’s operating.
“The county staff is to be commended for taking the initiative on this,” Wilson said of the proposed rules.
Given that the state has shown little interest in alternative energy and more emphasis on coal-fired and nuclear power plants, Franklin County’s efforts to deal with small-wind generators puts them on the cutting edge in the state, Wilson said.
The rules that the county adopts will likely be used as a model for other counties in the state, which is why Wilson has said he’s been paying attention to the planners’ work.
Eventually, the state and the U.S. will embrace the western European model of conservation measures combined with many small neighborhood power producers with wind generators, solar panel arrays and recovering methane gas from livestock waste, he said.
Once it’s established, it’s a model that will be cheaper, healthier and more environmentally sound, Wilson said.
“Actually, that’s a goal that very doable,” Wilson said.
The proposed rules deal only with “small wind” and not the large utility-sized wind farms that are sprouting up over western Kansas.
Both Walrod and Wilson say that given average wind speeds and patterns in Franklin County, it’s not likely that any commercial wind farms would be located in the county, although Walrod said that in the future, some spots of southeastern Franklin County might be considered.
However, a Johnson County company has announced it plans to put a commercial wind farm in southeast Anderson County.
By Cleon Rickel
Herald Senior Writer
13 May 2008
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