Disruptive noise and lighting were two concerns raised at a Johnston City Council meeting where a DuPont Pioneer official presented the company’s wishes to build a 2-megawatt wind turbine in one of its research fields in the city.
But even with concerns, city council members expressed excitement about the potential project at their meeting on Monday night.
“I think as we move forward, you’re going to see these turbines start to dot the landscape more and more like we already are,” said council member David Lindeman. “I don’t think they’re going to be that farfetched to have something like this in Johnston.”
To meet future company-wide sustainability and energy goals, DuPont Pioneer hopes to build the 410-foot tall turbine in an approximately 800-acre research field in between NW 62nd Avenue and NW 70th Avenue, said Derek Nelson, a sustainability manager with the company.
The company is in the second phase of a three-part feasibility study looking at whether the turbine could be an option to help power energy-sucking buildings on the company’s campus, he said. All the energy generated from the turbines would be used in the company’s buildings, possibly in greenhouses or a planned soybean growing chamber.
“We’re trying to lessen our footprint and part of that is going with renewable energy,” he told the council.
However, the planned turbine would be larger than city ordinance currently allows.
The council passed an ordinance in 2010 allowing for the installation of small wind energy conversion systems. These smaller systems can generate no more than 100 kilowatts of energy and would sit on rooftops or single poles, according to the ordinance.
No applications have come in from residents wanting to build the small systems, said Dave Wilwerding, the city’s community development director.
An amendment to the city’s current ordinance could allow for construction of a larger wind turbines on properties larger than 200 acres, Wilwerding said. An amendment would also require a turbine to be set back a certain distance into the property and establish height regulations.
With a requirement for a larger acerage, there would be few other parcels of land around Johnston that could hold a turbine, he said.
In either of the two locations the company is looking at, Pioneer’s proposed wind turbine would sit at least 3,200 feet from the nearest residential building, Nelson wrote in a letter to the city. MidAmerican Energy’s safety requirements call for between 1,000 and 1,200 feet of space between a wind turbine and a residence, he said.
The turbine would also be at least 1,300 feet from any of the company’s facilities, Nelson said.
Council member Gerd Clabaugh expressed excitement to see the company utilize wind energy, but said concerns do exist about noise and flickering lights on the turbine’s towers. Council member Matt Brown said the city needs to ensure the noise impact on neighborhoods is minimized.
“Really if we look at acreage that’s a great barometer, but distance to neighborhoods, that’s one of the biggest complaints that I’ve ever heard is that these things make a lot of noise,” he said.
The company has hired consultants in its feasibility study, and they will be looking at the effects of both lights and noise, Nelson said. Pioneer intends to update the city as the feasibility study continues, he said.
“We will address that and we will make sure that the city is informed of everything throughout the feasibility process,” he said. “I think it’s an educational opportunity for everybody. Wind is still kind of a new concept.”
The wind turbine also faces challenges from the company itself; there’s been no funding set aside yet for the project, and DuPont has a large stake in the solar power industry, Nelson said.
With two potential locations for the turbine in the field, Nelson said he’s had conversations about whether the company could eventually build two turbines. For now, however, the focus is on building the first one.
“We’re fighting an uphill internal battle right now, so if we can even get one I’d be highly, highly enthusiastic, I guess,” he said. “Right now we’re just trying for one and crossing our fingers and seeing what happens I guess.”
“It’d be kind of cool to see the Des Moines skyline transformed though and see a wind turbine in the background and you can say, ‘Hey, that’s Johnston by the way,’” he said.
City staff will now research and sit down with Pioneer to work on writing a proposed ordinance, Wilwerding said.
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