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Supervisors discuss wind turbine proposal

Johnson County officials tweaked a proposal Thursday to remove restrictions on residents and businesses building wind turbines on their properties, raising the maximum height before needing to obtain a permit.

The change would eliminate the obligation for residents building turbines 100 feet tall or shorter – up from the former proposal of 80 feet – and producing no more than 10 kilowatts to obtain a conditional use permit. The permit carries a fee and attaining one can be a cumbersome process.

Turbines between 101 and 150 feet tall, which currently do not have an applicable ordinance, would need to obtain a conditional use permit. Those turbines are limited to a generating capacity of 100 kilowatts.

Since the wind ordinance amendment was introduced, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors have heard a handful of comments from residents. At least one of the comments centered on the fact that the turbines need to be 1.1 times their length from property lines and road right-of-ways lines, but officials said that’s not likely to change.

“There might be nothing on that property at the time, but people might want to build in the future,” said RJ Moore, assistant administrator with the planning and zoning commission. “We want to make sure if it does go over it wouldn’t fall on their new house or whatever. We don’t advocate and wouldn’t support that you wouldn’t need that 1.1 setback requirement.”

Mike Carberry with the Iowa Wind Energy Association praised the board for its interest in making it easier for residents to have turbines. He said his organization recommends turbine towers – not including the cell and blades – be a minimum of 100 feet tall to achieve a reasonable return on investment. He recommended the board increase the 80 foot height requirement to not need a permit to 100 feet. He also asked that the height refer only to the tower, or hub, rather than the entire turbine.

Part of the reason for the recommendation is power, Carberry said.

“The power a turbine produces is exponential as you get higher,” he said. “More tower more power.”

Moore said that wouldn’t be problem, and the board seemed receptive to the idea. They ultimately directed staff to reconsider the proposal at 100 feet instead of 80 and will reconsider the proposal at a future meeting.

Rural Johnson County residents Rich and Susan Young wrote in an email to the board that they are considering putting a wind turbine on their property but requested the board increase the cutoff height before requiring a permit from 80 to 100 feet.

“We understand the board’s need to establish clear criteria for determining which permitting process would apply, but setting the tower limit at 80 feet would likely mean that most well-designed installations would be required to go through the more costly and time-consuming conditional use process,” the Youngs wrote.

The proposed amendment also establishes certain restrictions on the operations, such as requiring that the turbines comply with building codes, be a non-obtrusive color such as white or gray and have no artificial lighting.

The power output of a typical wind turbine is 1.5 kilowatts and is able to provide 230 kilowatt hours per month, or 27 percent of the energy to power an average home, according to data presented at the board meeting.