Janesville13.3°

Proposal would limit turbine locations

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GINA R. HEINE
February 1, 2008
— Regulations being considered for wind turbines in Union Township would make a proposed wind energy project in the township impossible, the wind developer said this morning.

Wind turbines in Union Township would need to be at least one-half mile from homes and 1,000 feet from property lines, according to a proposed wind ordinance presented to the Town of Union Plan Commission on Thursday night.


The town’s Wind Turbine Study Committee was charged with investigating wind turbines and writing a proposed ordinance to regulate them.


Curt Bjurlin, Wisconsin project developer for EcoEnergy, said he is disappointed with the draft ordinance because he said it is “far more restrictive” than the state’s model draft ordinance.


“I think the town leadership realizes the people in the town and surrounding area greatly desire the need to have renewable energy,” he said.


The proposed setbacks leave “very, very little land” available, he said, “and certainly not enough for a renewable energy project.”


Bjurlin said EcoEnergy staff will work with town officials and residents to answer questions.


“We’re dedicated to building this project and moving forward,” he said.


The recommended setbacks are the absolute minimum, committee chairman Tom Alisankus stressed, because the committee’s research suggested distances of up to 1.5 miles.


The town board appointed the seven-member committee in September, and it has met nearly every Saturday since. The town board imposed a stay on construction of large wind energy systems until August.


EcoEnergy is proposing to put three 397-foot tall wind turbines in the township. Wisconsin Public Power would buy the energy to be used by Evansville Water and Light customers.


A town attorney will review the committee’s recommendations, and the plan commission will discuss the ordinance at its Thursday, Feb. 28, meeting and likely hold a public hearing at its March 27 meeting.


Committee members worked hundreds of hours, and committee member Jim Bembinster visited wind farms as far away as Wasco, Ore., Alisankus said. The committee’s results are summarized in a 318-page report, along with a 25-page draft ordinance.


Members looked through thousands of pages of documents and only considered information that was peer-reviewed or cited by reputable sources, Alisankus said. Doing so eliminated any influence from members’ personal feelings, he said.


Committee members started with the state’s model draft ordinance, which Alisankus said left a sour taste in their mouths. They sent an open records request seeking the scientific and medical documentation used to develop the state’s model ordinance, which has an “aura” of state approval, he said.


“The committee was shocked to receive a response to this open records request that in fact there was no scientific or medical documentation used to create the model draft ordinance,” he said.


Instead, the state sent them 11 pages, most of which were notes from meetings used to write the ordinance. It appeared the ordinance was written predominantly by a Florida power company, Alisankus said.


The committee also invited stakeholders to participate and sent lists of questions to the companies involved.


“We were not particularly pleased with the responses we got,” Alisankus said. “In one case, even though there were scores of questions, we only received five answers back.”


Setbacks and sound were key to the committee’s work, he said.


“If you control … the setbacks and the sound levels appropriately, there should be no issue with ultimate construction of these turbines, at least with respect to the health and safety boundaries that we had to live by,” he said.


The state’s model ordinance makes the “assumption” that a 1,000-foot setback is OK, Alisankus said.


EcoEnergy plans its projects to have at least a 1,150-foot setback, Bjurlin said.


But the majority of the scientific and medical documentation the committee found recommended a minimum of one-half mile from homes, Alisankus said.


Their research came from the World Health Organization, audiologists, physicists, acoustical engineers, doctors and residents, he said.


“The whole problem area that a lot of people have been focusing a lot of time on can be solved by proper siting and proper testing ahead of time,” he said. “If the community does that and if the wind industry goes along with that, there shouldn’t be too many issues left over beyond that.”


WIND COMMITTEE

Members of the Town of Union Wind Study Committee are Tom Alisankus, chairman; Renee Exum, secretary; Scott McElroy, Jim and Cathy Bembinster, Mike Leeder and Sue Pestor.


ORDINANCE HIGHLIGHTS

Under the Town of Union Wind Study Committee’s recommended draft ordinance:


-- Wind turbines must be sited at least one-half mile from the nearest home, business, school, daycare facility, church, hospital and other inhabited structures.


-- Turbines must be sited at least 1,000 feet from the nearest property line and at least five times the rotor diameter from the property lines of all adjoining property owners who have not granted an easement for a lesser setback.


-- Turbines must be sited at least 1,000 feet or three times its total height from any road, railroad, power line right-of-way and above-ground public electric power line or telephone line.


-- Applications for a wind energy system must include—in part—a pre-construction noise survey within a 1-mile radius of each proposed turbine location, a sound study, an environmental study, ice and blade throw calculations plans, a shadow flicker and blade glint map, a stray voltage and ambient voltage test/plan and a fire prevention, emergency response and rescue plan.


-- Limits would be placed on the sound produced by turbines as measured from the outside of the nearest residence and other inhabited structures.


REGULATION LIMITS

Wind turbine ordinances can only regulate turbines in regard to public health and safety, said Tom Alisankus, chairman of the Town of Union Wind Study Committee.


Alisankus said the committee could not address:


-- Necessity of a meteorological tower to gather data in a proposed site


-- Impact on farmland


-- Divisiveness in communities


-- Impact on property values


-- Decommissioning of turbines


-- Other alternative energy sources


Read the proposed ordinance [PDF]

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