Our View: City should cap height of wind turbines at 100 feetHow tall is too tall? That’s a question the city of Woodbury has been studying and discussing for the last calendar year in relation to an alternative energy ordinance it is expected to vote on this summer that would regulate the size, scope and location of wind turbines in the city limits.
How tall is too tall? That’s a question the city of Woodbury has been studying and discussing for the last calendar year in relation to an alternative energy ordinance it is expected to vote on this summer that would regulate the size, scope and location of wind turbines in the city limits.
We suggest the city adopt an ordinance that would cap the height of any wind turbine built in or near a residential zoned area at 100 feet, which would impact the South Washington School District plans to build a wind turbine much taller.
Those plans, which the district has not yet officially submitted to the city, include the potential for a utility-scale turbine of about 185 feet in height, which officials said would have provided as much as 40-50 percent of the high school’s electricity needs. A turbine of a similar height installed at an energy company in Maple Grove in 2007 cost more than $500,000. The annual electricity costs for the school are estimated to be around $200,000, so there is no doubt a wind turbine of the size and scope the district would like to see built would subsidize the electricity bill for East Ridge High School.
A much smaller residential wind turbine by definition generates about 10 kW of electricity, far short of the 225 kW a utility-scale turbine that school district 833 officials were making plans for more than a year ago.
While we appreciate the school district’s efforts to find ways to save operating costs, we share the concerns expressed by some residents who live near the school that a turbine nearly 200 feet tall would have a negative aesthetic impact in a residential area.
East Ridge High School sits across from several residential developments on Bailey Road. A local property owner with future residential development land adjacent to the school’s property has told the school district and city that a wind turbine of that size would be an auditory and visual blight to future residential neighborhoods.
Several residents with homes not far from the high school and attorneys on behalf of the land owner have informed the city of other potential negative impacts of larger wind turbines, which include blade flicker and ice throw.
Although local proponents for the wind turbine have downplayed those concerns citing technology advancements over the last several years in the development of wind energy, those who have concerns about the aesthetic impact of a utility-scale turbine at the high school cannot be ignored because they are the ones who will be impacted.
Last fall school district officials said they were ready to move forward with submitting a plan for a wind turbine to the city, but city planning officials, with the blessing of the Woodbury City Council, decided to use the winter and spring to broaden the scope of their study on potential impacts of wind turbines within the city limits.
The result is a draft alternative energy ordinance the city has carefully crafted that, among a set of regulation for various alternative energy technologies, includes a section on wind turbines.
Last month the city council gave an informal nod to the draft ordinance to set the size of any turbines in residential zoning districts at 75 feet and to hold off for a while longer making any amendments to allow turbines of taller heights.
School district officials have said they would prefer to install a utility-scale turbine rather than a residential-scale turbine and would like to do it sooner rather than later.
While we praise the city for exercising patience and due diligence on this important topic, we believe it is time for the city council to make a decision on its wind turbine ordinance. And we believe that decision should be to cap height for any wind turbine in or adjacent to a residential zoning district at 100 feet.
An example of what a 100-foot wind turbine looks and sounds like in a residential community is just a short trip down I-94 in St. Paul. In 2003 Macalester College installed a 103-foot wind turbine.
The turbine, which cost $45,000 seems to fit in well with the relatively quiet neighborhood and generates 10 kW, not a substantial amount of energy savings for the school.
A residential turbine would provide an educational tool for students that District 833 officials said is one of the reasons they would like to build a turbine at East Ridge High School.
Any size wind turbine in the Woodbury community would be hailed as a significant achievement for those interested in the study and utilization of alternative forms of energy. That can be achieved by capping the maximum height of a wind turbine at 100 feet in residential areas, which we believe would minimize any concerns about disturbance to the residential landscape that continues to develop in the southern portion of Woodbury near East Ridge High School.
The question District 833 officials then need to ask themselves: Is it worth it to install a turbine that would be more of an educational tool than it would be a significant source of alternative energy?