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Wind power the topic in Soldotna: City council discusses proposed guidelines for constructing wind energy systems

Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010

Private wind turbines may soon be permitted in Soldotna.

The Soldotna City Council expects to introduce an ordinance at its Feb. 24 meeting that would allow the board to amend zoning regulations in a way that establishes standards for installing small wind energy systems within city limits.

Soldotna City Planner Stephanie Queen presented the council with a proposed resolution on Wednesday that had been drafted and approved by the planning and zoning committee. The proposal focuses on promoting green energy development while minimizing possible adverse effects.

The Kenai City Council addressed a similar issue in November and voted to amend the city's code in a way that now permits turbines in Kenai. A local wind energy expert, Nadia Daggett, called Kenai's ordinance the most progressive set of guidelines of all Alaska cities. Daggett, owner of Alaskan Wind Industries, has been working with the Soldotna planning and zoning committee to help draft their resolution proposal.

As in Kenai's case, the Soldotna council will need to consider what restrictions to impose on possible generators built in the city. Noise, height and aesthetics must be considered.

At Wednesday's Committee of the Whole meeting, the council seemed to be in favor of amending the code, but it is clear that it will require much discussion to get the ordinance correct.

"I don't mind taking it slow and weighing through it and maybe postponing it a few times until we get it right," council member Dale Bagley said.

Currently, Soldotna code all but prohibits turbines within city boundaries. Height restrictions cap unlisted use construction projects at 36 to 48 feet, depending on the zoning district. Turbines, which are considered unlisted use structures, should be taller than the tree line to take full advantage of the wind.

The planning and zoning committee's proposed resolution defines wind energy systems and establishes construction standards that could be applied when someone wants to build a generator in Soldotna. Such standards mean wind turbines no longer have to meet the universal unlisted use requirements.

The resolution would approve of one turbine on a lot of at least 20,000 square feet as long as the structure is set back at least 20 feet from the edge of the property. If the land plot meets theses standards, a turbine can be approved through an administrative permit, which does not require a public hearing.

The same regulations would cover all Soldotna zones, meaning no area of the city would be prohibited from turbine development.

The resolution says turbines cannot give off more than 50 decibels of noise, must be shorter than 80 feet tall, painted in a non-reflective neutral color and not be used for advertising purposes.

If a piece of property or a turbine does not meet these standards, the developer can apply for a conditional use permit, which could allow the city to approve the generator after going through the public process.

Daggett said Soldotna's wind speed, which averages 4.8 miles per hour at the airport during peak months and 2.8 mph during the slowest months, would be conducive for vertical generators.

Vertical turbines produce less noise, function at slower wind speeds and have less impact on wildlife than horizontal turbines, according to Daggett.

The council expects to hold a public hearing on the possible code amendment in March.

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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