By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN So far, wind turbines haven’t been cropping up in Delano, but the city is preparing for the possibility.
At a recent Delano City Council meeting, the council passed a wind energy conversion systems ordinance, in order to determine where the systems are and are not compatible with existing and future land uses.
Aesthetics, noise, and safety are the primary concerns when it comes to wind turbine placement, city planner Alan Brixius said.
Because of this, the ordinance requires a setback distance of at least 1.5 times the total height of the wind turbine and the nearest property line, above ground utility, road right-of-way, or existing building on the same lot.
“That means that if a 150-foot turbine goes up, it will need to have a setback of 225 feet,” Brixius explained.
A long setback distance allows enough separation from neighboring properties, so that if the wind turbine were to collapse, it wouldn’t fall on anyone else’s land.
The setback also takes care of the potential risk of ice being flung from the rotors. However, the risk of this happening is “practically nonexistent” according to the city memo, because the rotors would barely be able to move if covered in ice.
Another concern the council discussed was noise. According to the ordinance, noise from the systems must be in compliance with the State of Minnesota Pollution Control Standards.
There are very few noise complaints against small wind turbines, according to the American Wind Energy Association. A small turbine’s noise level is ranked at 50 to 60 decibels, roughly the same noise level as an average home or office.
Taller wind turbines are noisier, but they also output more energy.
A typical 10-kilowatt small wind system can generate around 10,000 kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power one house for a year. A large-scale 1-megawatt system can generate enough energy to provide power to 300 homes per year.
Delano’s wind ordinance is for “land-use purposes only,” Brixius said, and it doesn’t determine if a wind turbine will be efficient in a given area.
“That goes beyond our ordinance,” he said.
People considering a wind turbine will need to do their own efficiency studies.
So far, only one person has expressed interest in putting up a wind turbine in Delano, Brixius said. The person wanted to put the turbine in the industrial park, but it was determined that the size he wanted wouldn’t fit on the site.
One change the city made to the wind turbine ordinance involves shadow casting. If the sun is shining, a wind turbine casts a large shadow.
“It can be a nuisance issue,” Brixius said.
Flickering sunlight through the turbine blades can also be a problem, he added.
“Imagine sitting in front of a fan with a light behind it,” he said.
Utility-sized wind turbines will require an analysis to determine if shadow casting or flickering will be an issue. If so, a greater setback may be required.
Other regulations in the ordinance involve electromagnetic interference, building permits, zoning districts, design standards, and inspection, among others.
“We may need to tweak the ordinance if there is something we missed,” Brixius said.
Mostly, the city just wants to have something in place before the issue of a wind turbine in Delano arises, he said.
According to a recent article from The Seattle Times, the US installed more wind power in 2009 9,900 megawatts, or enough to power 2.4 million homes than in any other year.
Minnesota is among the nation’s leaders in wind energy production, ranking fourth behind Texas, California, and Iowa, according to the National Wind web site.
In large part, the government has been the motivating factor when it comes to wind energy development. Minnesota has instituted renewable energy objectives for utilities, tax incentives, and community-based legislation (C-BED statute). The goal of the legislation is to have 25 percent of energy come from wind resources by 2025.
Despite government incentives, however, wind energy systems still have a high price tag.
“I don’t think we’ll see a rash of them coming in,” Brixius said. “The expense is pretty significant.”
Most of the commercial-scale turbines installed today are 2 megawatts in size and cost roughly $3.5 million installed, according to Windustry, an organization that promotes renewable energy solutions.
Smaller farm-or residential-scale turbines cost less overall, but are more expensive per kilowatt of energy-producing capacity. A 10-kilowatt machine (the size needed to power an average home) might cost $35,000 to $50,000, Windustry’s web site stated.
As technology advances, wind turbines might become more popular, Brixius said. There are now roof-mounted wind energy systems, for example, he said.
“We think the green energy alternative is certainly important,” he said. The purpose of the ordinance isn’t to discourage wind turbines, he said, but rather to protect nearby properties.
“We tried to established regulations and standards to protect the adjoining property owner who doesn’t really have a say,” Brixius said.