The Natrona County Commissioners last week gave initial approval to amend the local zoning regulations to allow taller domestic wind towers with a conditional use permit.
The new regulations increase the permitted height in residential zones from 45 feet up to 60 feet. The change was made to adapt to more recent practices in the industry.
The change, however, still drew criticism from Mike Kenefick, who sells 60-foot-tall, 10-kilowatt Bergey turbines. Kenefick was seeking a measure that didn’t require a conditional use permit, but simply increased the allowable height to 60 feet.
“What I was originally asking for, gentlemen, is simply for the rules in Natrona County to reflect industry standards; industry standards for small wind are in fact to keep the tower to a minimum height. Most, not all of them, but most manufacturers of wind turbines don’t even have a 45-foot tower available,” Kenefick said.
“The reason … is the speed of the wind, and the power output, that relationship is huge. So that means if you double wind speed, you increase your power output by eight times,” Kenefick explained. “In gaining 15 feet [raising it to 60 feet] what we’re doing is increasing the power output on all of these turbines by 75 percent, OK? And with that now you’ve got a viable, reasonable expectation of return on a substantial investment.”
Kenefick said one of the problems with requiring a conditional use permit was he has three customers who’ve received $10,000 renewable energy grants, but they have to have their towers “commissioned” by June 1 or they lose the money. He said a conditional use permitting process would likely push them beyond that time frame
“I’m just looking for industry standards,” Kenefick said. “We say we support wind energy, then let’s not put rules in place that’s contrary to that ruling.”
Laramie and Sheridan counties have apparently adopted 60-foot standards.
The commissioners, however, were concerned about adequate setbacks in smaller residential lots, along with aesthetics and noise.
“It’s the complaints, it’s the nature of the complaints that have to do with noise and view shed,” said county code officer Gene Wallace, particularly noting issues in the mountain residential zones along Casper Mountain.
“I have no problem with it, I understand industry is going that way, as long as it’s going to be a conditional use permit, so it’s got to appear before the planning commission and us,” said Commissioner Terry Wingerter. “I’m a stickler about aesthetics in our community, and the whole metropolitan area, but I have no problem with it [60-foot towers].”
Wingerter asked if there’s anything in the regulations regarding the pole. “Do we have something about that pole if you ever stop using it … do you have to tear it down, the pole, or do we have anything to that nature?”
“Actually no,” Wallace replied. “We don’t have the same kind of regulations that we do with regard to the major wind towers like we have out in Evansville.”
While the commissioners unanimously endorsed the change, last week’s meeting was only the public hearing, and the ordinance must still be given final approval. Commissioner Rob Hendry said they would look into an expedited timeline to see if they could get everything done quickly enough so the three applicants could still make the deadline on their energy grants.
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