Northwest Renewable News

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Blaine Co. Wind-energy regs blow toward finish December 11, 2009

It’s taken nearly 10 public hearings and will apparently take one more for the Blaine County Commission to approve an ordinance that will permit and regulate wind-energy facilities.

Commissioners on Tuesday all but approved the ordinance, deciding to hold off for one more week to clean up the changes made to the most recent draft of the regulations. They are scheduled to make a final vote on the ordinance on Monday.

At the past two meetings, the commission decided it would be inappropriate to allow wind turbines within the “scenic corridor,” the area visible from state Highway 75 north of Bellevue’s Glendale Road, which proved the most highly contested issue for interested members of the public.

At this week’s meeting, the most significant change was made to the design standards, specifically deleting language regarding wind-energy facilities taller than 40 feet. The commission chose to remove conditions that stated turbine size “should be suitable to wind energy potential” and that “visual impact shall be minimized through design and siting.”

The commissioners agreed that these conditions could contradict one another and that it would be difficult for members of the county’s planning staff to judge the appropriate site or size for a turbine project.

“Minimizing the visibility might come at the sacrifice of productivity,” Commission Chairman Larry Schoen said. “As well, the Planning and Zoning Commission doesn’t have the tools to evaluate these standards.”

Instead, the commissioners will rely on established conditional-use permit language that affords members of the public to weigh in on projects that might affect their neighborhood or community.

As well, Commissioner Tom Bowman said the fact that the cost of electricity supplied by Idaho Power is lower than the cost of installing a wind turbine would likely keep most county residents from creating poorly sited and inefficient wind projects.

“I trust the public that they’re not going to spend $12,000 on something that’s not going to spin,” Bowman said.

In residential zones, the ordinance allows roof-mounted wind turbines of up to 40 feet above ground level on properties of five acres or more without requiring a conditional-use permit. That means property owners with large enough lots would be able to install a turbine that doesn’t reach above the 40-foot mark without being required to go the Planning and Zoning Commission for a public hearing. Likewise, freestanding turbines of up to 40 feet are allowed on properties of more than 10 acres without a conditional-use permit.

In agricultural zones with parcels over 20 acres (A-20 and A-40), freestanding turbines also do not need conditional-use approval and can range up to 120 feet.

Thinking of installing a wind turbine?

Included in the proposed wind energy facility ordinance are the following size and zoning criteria for turbines that won’t require a conditional-use permit:

Type Maximum height Minimum Acres

Rooftop 40 feet 5

Freestanding 40 feet 10

Freestanding 120 feet 20 (ag and rural zones)

Jon Duval, Idaho Mountain Express


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