Red Oak -- Montgomery County officials are putting future wind turbine projects on hold--at least for now.
By unanimous vote Tuesday morning, the county's board of supervisors approved a one-year moratorium on wind energy projects--with the caveat that it could be extended or suspended at any time upon board approval. Board members took action after County Zoning Administrator Barry Byers discussed the need for the county's zoning board to review and update the existing wind ordinance--a two-page document written in 2007.
"Setbacks for a large utility scale windmill are essentially the tower height right now--which is well below state average," said Byers, "because the tower height is around 300 feet right now, and most counties are a thousand feet, or one-and-a-half times the tower height."
After speaking with Byers and County Attorney Drew Swanson, Supervisors Chair Mark Peterson agrees the county should hold off on new turbine projects until the current ordinance is reviewed.
"The feeling is, since our ordinance will be considered weak at this time," said Peterson, "that could be worse than having no ordinance at all, because it could be pretty easy for somebody to say, 'hey, this is what you've got in place, this is what we're working with.' So, we need to just--in my phrase--tap the brakes."
However, Peterson adds the moratorium isn't permanent.
"We're not necessarily going to disallow windmills or turbines forever," he said. "But, we need to give the zoning commission time to get an up-to-date regulation put together, rather than having a large-scale company saying, 'hey, these look really favorable. Let's get something going right now. In my opinion, we need to put it out there that, for the time being, we're not accepting applications."
Supervisor Donna Robinson suggested contacting other area counties with turbines and ordinances already in place, such as Adams or Cass counties, for example.
"Obviously, Page County is sitting in the situation where it's very controversial," said Robinson. "And that may happen (here) as well. But, I would like to see us look at ordinances that are obviously successful. Mills County, even--in talking to a Mills County supervisor, they've got something in good standing, as well."
Byers says the zoning board's goal is to craft a "middle of the road" ordinance--one that's fair to both companies and residents. He hopes the board's first meeting on wind issues takes place later this month. The supervisors stress the moratorium is for new projects, and doesn't affect the turbines already in place.
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