A state law has undercut the city of Brookfield’s plans to regulate energy-producing wind turbines.
Essentially, the state law, passed in March, removes the ability for local governments to put certain size requirements on personal wind turbines.
“We can control where they are located on a property but not height, (at least) not to the degree that the Plan Commission and the community wanted to control,” explained Community Development Director Dan Ertl.
Turbines will now fall under Wisconsin Administrative Code, although the Plan Commission voted to update the city’s code to be in compliance with state regulations.
Brookfield will be able to keep turbines from being closer to the lot line than 1½ times their height.
The theory behind this, Ertl said, is that if one should fall, it would still be on the owner’s property.
In a city where the average lot is 135 feet , that means there could be turbines well more than 50 tall. At a meeting earlier this spring, the Plan Commission suggested limited the height to 20 feet.
Mayor Steven Ponto said he’s frustrated that the state has hamstrung local communities with such a broad plan.
“Local governments know the needs and desires of their communities better than the state government does,” Ponto said. “There should be flexibility on the local governments to make decisions that reflect the needs of the community.
“I don’t like this one-size-fits-all (approach) from Madison.”
Ponto pointed to Brookfield’s sprinkler regulations as being much more stringent than those at the state level. The state requires buildings to have sprinklers only if the building is 10,000 square feet or larger, whereas Brookfield requires it for commercial buildings larger than 3,000 square feet.
Brookfield has, Ponto said, been able to keep its Fire Department staff down in part because the restrictions have kept major fires down in the city. On the other hand, the mayor admitted, he doesn’t see the implementation of the wind turbine law becoming a serious problem.
“Honestly, I think that the wind turbines within municipalities are not really cost-effective. So, as a practical matter, I don’t think we’re going to see wind turbines.”
Currently there is only one such turbine in the city, and that is atop the R.A. Smith building on Bluemound Road, and it conforms to the city’s code. According to a city report, the optimum height is between 120 and 150 feet. This leads some city officials to predict homeowners may try to put these energy producers on the tops of their homes.
Given the state law, there’d be nothing to stop homeowners from doing that, so long as the height didn’t exceed the 1½ rule that the city is still allowed to implement.
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