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Rock County towns trying to tackle the wind

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ANN MARIE AMES
October 13, 2007

You can’t rope the wind.


But you can wrap red tape around wind turbines.


One town at a time, rural Rock County is sitting up and paying attention to wind farms.


The town of Beloit Planning Commission has its first wind farm discussion on an upcoming agenda. No one has approached the town with a plan for a “farm” that uses wind to create energy, but they want to stay ahead of the curve, said town Administrator Bob Museus.


“After seeing what’s going on in Magnolia, we may be interested in writing an ordinance before they even try to get here,” Museus said.


Two things make Rock County a good place to site wind farms: high, treeless ridges and lots of transmission lines.


The Paddock Substation in Beloit Township is the only portal for pumping electricity across the state line. That means Rock County hosts more transmission lines than other counties along the state line.


That’s why the town of Beloit hosts two power plants and why it could be a good place to plant a wind farm, said Rick Stadelman executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association.


“If you’re going to generate power, you’ve got to get it in the system,” he said.


Rock County’s not alone. In some areas of the state, counties are drafting ordinances—many of them aggressive, Stadelman said.


While energy companies might like to see a 150-foot tower allowed within 170 feet of homes or businesses, in Manitowoc and Shawano counties, planners are pushing for 750- to 1,000-foot setbacks.


Here in Rock County, the towns prefer to write their own ordinances, said Steve Schraufnagel, Rock County interim planning director.


“They would rather regulate that sort of thing at the local level,” Schraufnagel said.


Rock County planners are helping the towns by drafting a sample wind farm ordinance with the help from the towns association.


If a town wants to place restrictions on wind farms, “(It) better have something to defend the ordinance on public safety if it goes to court,” Stadelman said.


As towns get to work on ordinances, they need to look at what’s right for the neighborhood and the greater community, Stadelman said.


“The big issue is balancing,” Stadelman said. “The need for renewable energy is increasing. Wind energy is actually one of those we’re not paying foreign oil companies for.”


Regulating the wind

Wisconsin has statutes that define how municipalities can restrict wind farms. The statute was written in 1981 to regulate solar power generators and later amended to include wind farms, said Rick Stadelman executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association.


When towns or counties draft ordinances, they need to keep three things in mind, he said. According to state statutes, a local restriction on a wind farm must:


-- Preserve or protect public safety.


-- Not make the turbine more expensive or less efficient.


-- Give a comparable alternative.


Towns working on wind farm ordinances may turn to the “Draft Model Wind Ordinance for Wisconsin” dated Feb. 7, 2007.


Some highlights from the model include:


-- Turbines should be a non-obtrusive color.


-- A turbine should be set back from homes, schools and hospitals at least 1,000 feet or twice its height. It should be set back from property lines and roads at least 1.1 times its height.


-- The turbine must not produce more than 50 decibels of sound at any time. Normal speech is between 20 and 50 decibels.


-- The turbine’s blade must not swing closer than 50 feet to the ground.


-- The turbine must not interfere with telecommunication signals.



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