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Council sets hearing on ordinance to allow small wind turbines in areas around the city

WILLMAR -- Small wind turbines would be allowed to generate "green'' power in residential, commercial or industrial areas under an ordinance initiated by the Willmar Planning Commission.

The purpose of the Wind Energy Conversion System Ordinance, as it was approved by the Planning Commission on Oct. 14, is not to encourage or discourage wind systems, but merely to have some regulation and control over the systems should anyone want to install such a system within the city limits.

The Planning Commission began discussing the ordinance several months ago after a local citizen asked if he could erect a small turbine in a commercial area to charge golf cart batteries, said Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services.

"The Planning Commission has been working with staff to craft an ordinance that would deal with wind towers or wind generators,'' Peterson said. "The Planning Commission was interested in moving forward with such an ordinance because these systems are becoming more prevalent in residential areas, and they're becoming more suitable for small commercial applications in addition to the large wind farms that we're starting to see.''

"As people are looking for green power and alternative sources of energy, we're going to see more and more of this type of energy provision activity, and the Planning Commission and staff thought it would be best to take a proactive approach and get an ordinance in place before we are faced with a situation that we are really powerless to maintain, or manage or regulate,'' he said.

The ordinance provides the basic framework for allowing the systems in residential, central business district, commercial and industrial areas, Peterson said. He said the commission wants to take the ordinance to the public, see what they say about it, and recommended the council introduce the ordinance for a public hearing at the Nov. 2 meeting.

The council voted to set the hearing at the recommendation date.

The ordinance defines the system as an electrical generating facility comprised of one or more wind turbines and accessory facilities, including but not limited to power lines, transformers and substations that operate by converting the kinetic energy of wind into electrical energy. The energy may be used on-site or distributed into the electrical grid.

Council member Steve Ahmann praised the Planning Commission's proactive approach. He said he thought the ordinance was complex and asked if it was a model ordinance from another city.

Peterson said the ordinance was the result of research by staff and by Planning Commission Chairman Andrew Bjur, who has a personal interest in this type of power development.

Bjur is a project architect and is an accredited professional with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which advocates energy savings and resource conservation in construction, among other things.

Peterson said he thought the ordinance was not terribly cumbersome.

"The Planning Commission put a lot of time into it and Andrew Bjur is very familiar with these systems and permitting processes involved, having worked on them in other cities. In his opinion, this is about as bare bones as we should get because we don't want to make it difficult,'' Peterson said.

"The Planning Commission didn't feel comfortable taking a position on green power, but wanted to make sure they could properly deal with any requests that did come so that everyone's interests were protected,'' he said.

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