Wind turbines can sprout to 199 feet in Washington County townships

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2012 - 5:38 PM

The new Washington County rules govern the quantity, size and height of the structures.

Wind turbines in Washington County townships now can double in height — to 199 feet — if they meet certain conditions, the County Board decided last week.

Photo: Charlie Riedel, Associated Press - Ap

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Wind turbines in Washington County townships now can double in height -- to 199 feet -- if they meet certain conditions, the County Board decided last week.

Over objections from one commissioner, the board voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve changes to a 2002 ordinance that had restricted turbines and other wind energy devices to a maximum of 100 feet. The new ordinance regulating devices that convert wind to electricity, despite changes in height, prohibits wind farms.

The ordinance changes won't apply to cities in Washington County, which govern the land within their boundaries. The five townships covered under the county ordinance have the authority to set even more restrictive wind turbine rules than what the county ordinance specifies.

The new ordinance also could guide decisions in cities such as Forest Lake, Scandia and Hugo, which have open land where wind turbines might be proposed, said Board Chair Dennis Hegberg.

"Cities look at our recommendations to determine how they should go," Hegberg said. "This is fair and reasonable."

The county's planning advisory committee had recommended the changes after studying health effects and background information provided by the non-profit group Windustry, and hearing from a May Township resident who installed a wind turbine on his property.

Despite the endorsement, commissioner Lisa Weik cast the dissenting vote, objecting to the taller structures because of concerns about visual blight.

"It does not serve the greater public good," she said.

Resident Joseph Moore, of Denmark Township, expressed a similar concern during a public hearing on the matter. He asked the board to amend the ordinance to allow more neighbors to weigh in on a proposed wind turbine. The old ordinance stated that only those with adjoining properties could do so. He suggested that landowners down the road or across the street might object to noise or light flashes, too, and should be able to have a say. The board adopted his suggestion.

Dennis O'Donnell, a senior county planner, said the new ordinance is meant to control how wind energy turbines affect neighborhoods, but that it won't please everybody. But "we are not allowing wind farms," he said.

Under the new rules, no more than one device can be installed on a single parcel of land. The height and rotor diameter will be based on parcel size, and height can range from 100 to 199 feet, depending on the size of the parcel.

Devices will not be allowed on parcels of fewer than five acres. Turbines on properties of five to 10 acres can rise up to 100 feet. Those on parcels of 10 to 40 acres can rise to 136 feet. Parcels of 40 to 80 acres can have a device up to 160 feet. And those larger than 80 acres can have a wind turbine 199 feet tall. Setback distances and rotor size also will be related to parcel size. Devices should be non-reflective and a non-obtrusive color, the new ordinance said.

Residents will be able to install solar panels provided they are lower than 35 feet.

County officials looked into changing the ordinance after a Denmark Township farmer requested permission last year to erect a large wind turbine to provide power for his barn. The County Board, concerned with future requests, wanted a full review of the current ordinance.

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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