TYNDALL – The Bon Homme County Planning Commission voted Monday to recommend the standards of a draft to the County Commission involving the zoning ordinance covering wind energy systems.
The planning commission is a recommendation body appointed by members of the County Commission, which will have final say on the matter.
There were more than 50 Bon Homme County residents in attendance Monday morning. The first portion of the meeting was open for community members to give comments or concerns about the ordinance. Each member was given three minutes to address the planning commission.
“I think we had very good testimony this morning,” said Planning Commission member Robert Rothschadl of Tyndall.
Those opposed to the ordinance cited several topics of concern, the most popular being: zoning areas where turbines will be allowed due to noise and the possible depletion of property value.
The proposed ordinance has the setbacks set at a distance 1,000 feet from a residence and 500 feet or 1.1 times the height of the wind turbine, depending on which is greater, from the property line.
Some residents feel the proposed setbacks are too close of a distance for the wind turbines. Some advocated that setback distance be two miles from a residence and one-fourth mile from the property line.
“We think it is fair … due to the fact that wind turbines devalue property up to three miles out,” said Ed VanGerpen of Avon. “A few days ago, I was on the road going to Scotland. I noticed an airplane spraying a cornfield. That airplane certainly needs one-fourth mile from his neighbor’s wind tower to come back down in to spray that field,” he said.
The commission also heard from Prevailing Winds, LLC project manager Roland Jurgens, who addressed the setback issue.
“There was an extensive study in Minnesota when wind energy first took off,” he said. “They came up with the general consensus around the world being between 1,000 and 1,500 feet from a residence.”
The issue of noise was especially pertinent to residents who already have experience with wind turbines near their property.
According to the ordinance, there is a limit to the number of decibels that is involved in constructing and operating wind turbines, including constructive interference at existing off-site residences, businesses and public buildings.
“Minnesota has a 50 decibels (dB) standard but Minnesota (Department of Health) recommends that the standard be down to 45 dB, which is exactly what Bon Homme’s ordinances have adopted,” Jurgens said.
To put that in perspective, whispers are approximately 30 dB and normal conversation is usually between 60-65 dB, according to online noise comparisons.
“This was a model PC ordinance from commission in 2008,” said Bon Homme County Zoning Administrator Eric Elsberry. “We made two major changes – one was that the model ordinance had 55 decibels and we dropped it to 45 decibels. We also implemented the shadow flicker sensor, which wasn’t a requirement.”
A shadow flicker sensor is a repetitive variation of light intensity caused by the passing shadow of rotating blades, which can be an annoyance for residences. This predictive system calculates when shadow flicker is about to happen and stops the turbine rotation until the sun moves the shadows onto uninhabited land.
“Those are two points that went above and beyond what the ordinance was,” Elsberry said. “We didn’t do less than what the state requires, we actually increased some of the standards – some were based on our suggestions to protect the county’s interests.”
The members voted to recommend approval of the proposed ordinance as written to the County Commission. Doug Brandt was the lone Planning Commission member to vote no.
“I have concerns on the setbacks and concerns everyone has had here,” Brandt said. “Especially if person does not want them (the turbines near their property) at all, I’d like to see a greater setback.”
Commissioner Robert Rothschadl of Tyndall, who supported the ordinance, referenced section 1701, which states the intent.
“‘To assure a review of the environmental impacts and to protect the health, safety and welfare of county citizens’ – that tells you that this is set up to help protect the people,” he said. “I don’t want to see too big of a setback to where it prohibits people from wanting to go through with it.”
The Bon Homme County Commission will receive the recommendations and review the ordinance today (Tuesday). From there, commissioners will decide a date on a public hearing where county residents will be invited to once again discuss the outlines of the ordinance.