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City taking time on turbine ordinance

Whether the South Washington School District will install a wind turbine at East Ridge High School, once planned to be about 190 feet tall, is looking more uncertain as of late.

But District 833 officials said they are exercising patience while the city of Woodbury lays the groundwork for exactly where -- and to what scale of turbines -- it may allow as it develops an alternative energy systems ordinance.

District officials have been working on plans for possible installation of a wind turbine at the new school in Woodbury for more than a year, and have even constructed the infrastructure necessary to build the turbine should the city of Woodbury allow it.

But district officials have expressed some disappointment in recent weeks as the city's planning commission has been shoring up a draft of a new alternative energy ordinance.

It includes a chapter on wind turbines that would set a permitted height limit of a wind turbine in residential areas at 75 feet, and possibly 120 feet through a interim conditional-use permit.

At 75 feet in height a wind turbine would be considered a residential or demonstration-scale turbine, which would not generate enough power to substantially reduce energy consumption costs of the school, said Mike Vogel, District 833 assistant to the superintendent.

The school would still prefer that it be allowed to install a turbine of a much larger scale, which city officials categorize as a utility turbine, Vogel said.

"(The current draft ordinance) really seems to be limiting from our perspective based on the context of whatever they will allow in a residential area," Vogel said.

But Vogel added installation of a wind turbine, regardless of the size, is not essential to operations of the new school.

Balancing differing viewpoints

Over the last several months Woodbury planning staff have been researching the area of alternative energy, and specifically wind turbines, and have held public meetings to garner feedback from residents on the wind turbine issue to help develop an ordinance.

The city has also continued to discuss the issue with District 833 officials during their monthly meetings, said Woodbury city administrator Clint Gridley.

Vogel, who has taken the lead for the school district on the turbine issue, said the district understands and respects the complicated nature of the issue the city is working through in regards to the wind turbine ordinance.

With the location of East Ridge High School not far from several residential neighborhoods on the north side of Bailey Road, several residents and landowners have brought up concerns about the possibility that a utility-scale wind turbine would not only be a visual blight, but also a potential danger.

Some residents who said they have done research on the impact of wind turbines shared their concerns about the potential for a large-scale turbine to generate "ice throw" in cold temperatures.

Another potential concern some residents have cited is "blade flicker," which is a flickering shadow that the turbine could cast over traffic on nearby roads if it is not set back far enough on the East Ridge site.

But others have stated that, with the size and scope of a turbine 200 feet or shorter combined with the advancement in technology, those concerns would no longer be an issue.

For more on this story, see the July 1 print edition of the Woodbury Bulletin.