Barring an appeal within the next 10 days, Metropolitan State University in St. Paul will add a wind turbine to its Dayton’s Bluff campus, west of its library on East Seventh Street.
The St. Paul Planning Commission voted Friday to approve Metro State’s application for a three-blade, 20-kilowatt turbine standing atop a pole 104 feet high. The commission’s zoning committee last week recommended rejecting the proposal, 4-2.
University officials have not announced a construction date, but they hope to use the turbine as a teaching device in the school’s growing science offerings.
To that end, Metro State is seeking $31 million in state bond funds to build a science facility on the south side of East Sixth Street between Mounds Boulevard and Maria Avenue, and that proposal has won the recommendation of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities board.
State Sen. John Harrington and state Rep. Sheldon Johnson, both DFLers from St. Paul, have authored bills backing the science campus.
Tom Cook, director of government relations for the university, said some neighborhood residents had assumed the wind turbine would resemble the massive industrial machines seen on wind farms.
He called the Metro State proposal “tiny” by comparison, and more of a demonstration project than a major producer of power.
“It’ll be useful for our science program,” Cook said. “Twenty kilowatts is not a gigantic one, compared to the huge ones you see in Iowa.”
Macalester’s experience with a wind turbine over the past 10 years, Cook also downplayed concerns about the potential impact on birds and bats, as avoiding a single wind turbine is much easier for wildlife than navigating through an entire wind farm. He said the university has no plans to build additional turbines on the Dayton’s Bluff campus.
And any noise generated by the project, he said, would be easily drowned out by East Seventh Street traffic and nearby railroad operations.
“The sound differential – sort of the absolute sound – has been estimated at 50 decibels, which is like a refrigerator running,” Cook said. “The background noise is 5 decibels, which is like a leaf blowing.”
City planner Kate Reilly said the Dayton’s Bluff District 4 Community Council voted to support the wind turbine proposal when it first surfaced about two years ago but reviewed the plan again in recent weeks and voted to oppose it.
In written statements, residents expressed concerns about noise, a potential change in air pressure’s impact on bats, the visibility of the turbine from a nearby historic district and the lack of overarching city regulations.
“The city doesn’t have any applicable regulations on wind turbines at this time,” Reilly said.
The 10-day appeals period began Friday, she said.
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