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Turbine request spurs review of alternative energy approval process

The first request for an energy-generating wind turbine in Brookfield has sparked a review of the city’s alternative energy approval process, which is shaped by stringent state laws.

Civil engineering firm RA Smith National has requested approval of a wind turbine that stands 16 feet tall with a 7-foot blade atop its headquarters at 16745 W. Bluemound Road.

The measure cleared the Plan Commission on Sept. 12, but was tabled by the Common Council last week so city officials could rehash what latitude there is to review renewable energy installations, and what the review policy should be moving forward.

State statutes dictate that municipal restrictions of alternative energy must be for health or safety reasons. Such restrictions cannot increase cost, decrease efficiency or disallow comparable systems.

“Our ordinance has a conditional-use review, and I think it would be better to expand to list the things that will be reviewed as part of the process,” City Attorney Karen Flaherty said Tuesday.

Community Development Director Dan Ertl said the city uses review guidelines handed down by the state Public Service Commission. City officials could elect to codify those same guidelines so they are listed in the city zoning code.

The Plan Commission found that the turbine – which would emit 35 decibels of sound while generating 1,200 kilowatt hours at an average wind speed of 11.2 mph – met those guidelines and voted to recommend approval Sept. 12.

“It was within the parameters of the city’s code of what would have been tasteful, what would have been acceptable,” said Alderman Gary Mahkorn, who also is a Plan Commission member.

However, Alderman Gerry Mellone said he surveyed 20 homes in the neighborhood to the south and found no one in favor of the wind turbine.

“Is this motivation for a smaller turbine solely for advertising or promotional purposes?” he asked. “Brookfield has sign and height restrictions. If we approve this rooftop installation, this council should go back and approve the Hooters owl sign and the golden arches at the McDonald’s on Moorland Road.”

Steven Roncke, RA Smith National senior engineering technician and director of properties, said the turbine is intended to be a research tool rather than a promotional one.

“We do sustainable work for our clients,” he said. “We thought that this would be another way to do some research, to see if wind power is really a viable source of sustainable energy or not.”

Mellone questioned the merits of wind energy and urged RA Smith National to “be a good neighbor” and withdraw the request.

Roncke said he doesn’t intend to withdraw the request and hopes the Common Council approves it Oct. 3.