Council tables proposed wind turbine ordinance

Published 6:46 am Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A proposed ordinance that would allow wind turbines in industrial and commercial districts — but not in residential neighborhoods — still has kinks to be worked out, Austin City Council decided Monday.

And the council’s decision to table the proposal for further discussion was largely influenced by a stream of residents who spoke out against the proposal for various reasons.

If approved, turbines would be allowed in certain zones, given that the builders meet specific regulations regarding height, rotor width and distance from other structures.

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These limits would depend on whether a tower is small — less than 50 kilowatts of energy production — or large.

For example, a small tower could not exceed 150 feet in height, while a large tower would be capped at 250 feet.

This draft ordinance passed the city planning commission, 6-3, last Tuesday, sending it to the council.

The commission also decided to add a stipulation that towers will have to be at least 350 feet away from any residential district, in addition to not being in the neighborhoods themselves.

However, this is where the controversy began Monday night.

Two members of that commission that voted “nay” last week — Kathy Stutzman and Lynn Spainhower — said the 350-foot number was arbitrarily added in at the last minute.

Both Stutzman and Spainhower said more research should be done before adopting that regulation.

They also said the ordinance is all-around too restrictive, limiting places like schools in residential areas that may want to build towers someday.

Jim Stiles, co-owner of Super Fresh Produce in Austin, wants to put a turbine on his property and is also opposed to the 350-foot stipulation.

However, for Stiles it is simply a practical matter — if he had to build at least 350 feet away from the nearest home, he wouldn’t be able to build at all, he said.

Currently, Stiles can’t build because a moratorium is in place on turbine construction in Austin.

Steve Vietor, an instructor at Riverland Community College specializing in electrical education, voiced his support for Stiles and the general movement toward cleaner energy.

Vietor said “small” wind ventures, like the turbine Stiles is proposing, could be very lucrative, especially for students like his at RCC that have technical skills but are struggling to find jobs.

And to capitalize on all the opportunities the “green” energy structures could present, Vietor said it would be best to have a fairly open law.

“If we limit (now), we may find ourselves limited as we develop,” he said.

The solution, Vietor said after the meeting, is to allow a few turbines to go up as a way to ease people’s fear of the unknown.

But if Pat Reinartz gets her way, no one will be getting comfortable to turbines anytime soon.

The Austin resident, who said Super Fresh Produce is in her “backyard,” is against all parts of the proposed ordinance because she is worried about noise, aesthetics and a decreased property value.

“I’m totally against it,” she said outside the council chambers. “Even if it’s 350 feet (away).”