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Ordinance to allow small wind turbines in the city is discussed by Willmar Planning Commission

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Ordinance to allow small wind turbines in the city is discussed by Willmar Planning Commission
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Planning Commission is discussing the possibility of an ordinance that would allow small wind turbines within the city.


The commission began discussing wind turbine regulations over a month ago after a local citizen asked if he could erect a small turbine in a commercial area to charge golf cart batteries. The current zoning ordinance has no provision for regulating wind turbines, said Andrew Bjur, Planning Commission chair and renewable energy proponent.

"It came from the citizen looking to charge batteries, and since my interest is in renewable energy I along with the Planning Commission led the discussion, and since there isn't anything in our ordinance right now discussing it, we probably should add something,'' Bjur said.

Nothing has been finalized so far, but commission members agreed during their June 10 meeting that turbines should be allowed only by conditional use permit in residential districts and by plan review in commercial and industrial districts. Basic standard in a residential area would be a 35-foot maximum height on at least a half-acre lot. A turbine would only be allowed in rear or side yards with setbacks that equal or exceed the height of the structure.

Bjur said the ordinance would not only benefit renewable energy but would protect residents.

"You just don't want windmills going up all over the place,'' he said. "Some people think they might be eyesores. That's why you want to have a little bigger lot. The ordinance would be there to protect the city as well as provide the opportunity to have a renewable resource.''

The turbines being discussed by the Planning Commission are called vertical axis wind turbines, in which the blades are attached to a central vertical shaft.

The shaft is attached to a generator located at the bottom of the shaft, sometimes even at ground level.

When the blades rotate, they spin the rotor of the generator, producing electricity.

These small turbines generate enough power to serve one circuit or up to one service like a 100-amp system, depending on the turbine, Bjur said.

Bjur said there is a possibility that homes on larger residential lots and commercial and industrial businesses co-uld use small vertical axis wind turbines to generate some percentage of their power. The commission is using a Web site called PacWind as a reference for these smaller turbines.

The commission asked Bjur and city staff to prepare a draft ordinance regulating wind turbines. If the commission approves an ordinance, the ordinance would be forwarded to the City Council for approval, he said.

Bjur said wind energy is something he is interested in. He's a project architect at Engan Associates of Willmar and is an accredited professional with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), an internationally recognized program advocating energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide reductions, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources in construction.

"The way the nation is, we're looking for more sustainable development with commercial buildings as well as residential buildings. Obviously we want to find ways to use renewable energy to help power the future growth of our nation,'' Bjur said in an interview.

"If we could have a series of these small wind turbines, it could take a certain percentage of the city's required renewable energy power as well if they feed it back onto the grid and it's monitored by the city. That all has to be worked through the Municipal Utilities, but it has that potential,'' he said.

"The city could be reducing its power loads because there's enough residences or enough commercial/ industrial using renewable energy.''


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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150