A proposed wind farm ordinance for Stutsman County took another step toward reality Tuesday when the Stutsman County Planning and Zoning Committee held a hearing on the proposed rules. The ordinance will now be considered by the Stutsman County Commission at its July 7 meeting along with a recommendation from the zoning committee to lower the permit fee.
The process of drafting the ordinance began in November 2008 and has involved input from members of the public as well as wind energy developers. Officials think the final product will be good for wind energy development in Stutsman County.
"Absolutely, this is package favorable to wind farm developers," said Noel Johnson, Stutsman County chief operating officer and zoning administrator. "We let them give us the language they preferred and implemented much of it in the final draft."
One of the topics raised at the hearing was the $1,000 per turbine zoning permit fee set in the ordinance. Just Wind, a wind farm development company with offices in Napoleon and a project planned for the Medina area in 2012, had sent an e-mail to Johnson which said the Medina project would be killed if the permit fee weren't lowered.
"We think that is excessive," said Jeff Metzger, president of Just Wind. "Put a cap on it. We can't pick up that kind of expense in our operating expenses."
Metzger said Logan County had a $1,000 fee per turbine but a cap of $10,000 per project. He said other counties had similar fee structures.
"We batted around the idea of cap or no cap," said Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state's attorney and legal adviser to the zoning committee. "When we lowered the setback, which the wind companies found unsavory, we upped the fees that the wind companies also found unsavory."
Setback refers to the distance turbines must be placed away from property not involved in the wind farm project. Originally set at five rotor diameters, or five times the distance across the circle made by the rotating blades, the setback was lowered to two RD in the final version of the ordinance.
Fremgen said the permit fee compensated the county for any legal fees it may incur if any lawsuits concerning wind farm projects occurred.
"Nobody can give this county a cap on what a legal battle over this could cost," he said.
Johnson said the fee would go to the county general fund and would lower the taxes for all taxpayers in the county.
The zoning committee made no changes to the proposed ordinance but did recommend that the Stutsman County Commission lower the permit fee during its consideration of the ordinance on July 7.
The initial motion concerning the recommendation was to lower the fee to $250 per turbine. This was amended to $500 per turbine which passed with committee ,ember Charlie Kourajian dissenting. Kourajian had made the initial motion to set the permit fee at $250.
This recommendation will be considered at the same time the full ordinance is considered by the Stutsman County Commission.
The compromise, if passed by the commission, is satisfactory to Metzger.
"It is better than we started with," he said. "In the spirit of cooperation we're satisfied."
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org