Davison County is getting serious about its wind tower ordinances.
While county residents west of Mitchell await a decision to allow or block a $40 million, 9- to 11-turbine wind farm, the Davison County Planning and Zoning office is working to establish a set of 12 additions to the county zoning ordinances.
The 12 additions will set guidelines for any future wind farm builders in the county, such as the recently proposed project from Minnesota-based Juhl Energy. Bathke said the purpose of the update is to limit different interpretations of the existing ordinances that make rare mention of wind energy systems.
“Mainly, it was just to clarify some of the gray areas where if you read it, you might see something different than what I did,” Bathke said.
The 12 recommended additions to the code, which will be brought before the county commission at the Feb. 9 board of adjustment meeting, cover everything from obtaining road use and maintenance agreements to noise and light restrictions.
Of the more notable recommendations, Bathke will recommend a setback to block turbine construction within 1,000 feet of a non-participating residence, business or public building. The proposed setback extends beyond the state statute, which states any turbine more than 75 feet tall must be set back at least 500 feet or 1.1 times the height of the tower, whichever distance is greater, unless an adjacent landowner agrees to closer placement.
The Planning and Zoning office came to its recommendation well before Juhl Energy approached the county seeking permit approval. Bathke said he’s been noting the areas of the county zoning ordinances for two years in an effort to update the code.
“Every time we have an issue come up in our paper ordinance, I would write a little note, and it got to the point where there were too many notes in there and it was time to update it,” Bathke said.
Part of the recommendation process included a multi-county analysis of wind ordinances by Deputy Planning and Zoning Administrator Mark Jenniges.
Jenniges researched ordinances in 13 counties that have established wind farms to help draft standard regulations for any wind farm in Davison County. Jenniges’ research found most wind tower setbacks are fixed at 750 feet or 1,000 feet, so Bathke decided Davison County should utilize the higher of the two industry standards for setbacks.
Other recommendations include a ban on artificial lights except those in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration standards, towers may not exceed an output of 45 decibels measured at the nearest neighboring non-participating residence and the tower’s shadow flicker would not be able to exceed 30 hours per year. Shadow flicker can occur when the blades of a turbine cause alternating periods of shadow and light.
Also under the proposed guidelines, neighbors would not have to endure the towering turbines once they are decommissioned. Bathke’s recommendations would require all equipment both above ground and three feet below ground to be removed with 180 days after a wind energy system has been out of service for a continuous 12-month period.
Bathke said the commission and public will both have a chance to provide input on the recommendations, but the county commission will likely get the first crack at the matter in February, and the public will have a chance to share their thoughts in the spring.
If Bathke’s recommendations are approved in early 2016, Juhl Energy’s proposal would already meet the new guidelines. In early December, Juhl Energy’s Corey Juhl said the nearest non-participating home sits more than 1,500 feet away from the nearest turbine. And if a turbine was planned within 1,000 feet of a neighboring property, the proposed regulations would allow waivers to be signed by the neighbor allowing a less restrictive distance.
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