Medina looks at rural wind turbine rules

The Medina City Council Tuesday, Sept. 18, got its first look at proposed changes to city ordinances regulating wind turbines, and liked what it saw — up to a point.

After a lengthy discussion, the council asked Medina Planner Dusty Finke to come back with language that would allow some property owners in rural residential areas to have micro wind turbines. Once the City Council sees the new language, it will decide whether or not to include it in the ordinance.

On a scale of smallest to largest in terms of size and power, micro wind turbines are the smallest ones available on the wind power scene. Advertisements on the Internet show models with power as low as 2.1 kilowatts. This size is quite different in capacity from the three-megawatt, 407-foot tall wind turbine that Hennepin County proposed to locate near the county public works garage in Medina. The county has withdrawn this proposal, but, at one point, some Medina residents voiced opposition to it.

The ordinance proposal that came before the City Council on Sept. 18 was crafted after the Medina Planning Commission had looked at the wind turbine issue for three months. Commissioners went to work after the City Council, on June 5, enacted a moratorium on issuance of conditional use permits (CUPs) for installing wind energy conversion systems (wind turbines).

The City Council called for the moratorium after learning that a resident on Homestead Trail was considering the installation of a 189-foot tall, 39.9 kilowatt wind turbine to help her save on electrical bills. Councilors talked about how wind turbine technology is changing rapidly, and city regulations need to keep up with the technology.

The Planning Commission recommended an amended ordinance that has a significant change from the current ordinance.

Currently, wind turbines are conditional uses in Rural Residential, Agricultural Preserve, Rural Residential-Urban Preserve, Rural Residential 1, Rural Residential 2 and Suburban Residential Districts. However, commissioners recommended that wind turbines be removed from the list of uses allowed in all residential zoning districts. The commission recommended adding wind turbines as an allowed use in Business, Business Park, Commercial-Highway, Commercial Highway Railroad, Commercial General, Rural Business Holding and Rural Commercial Holding districts.

Two Homestead Trail residents, Nancy and Clarkson Lindley, asked the City Council to follow the Planning Commission recommendations and not allow wind turbines in Rural Residential areas. Nancy Lindley said she wanted Medina to preserve the Rural Residential appearance of the area.

In contrast, City Councilor Liz Weir said she was interested in possibly allowing micro wind turbines on large lots in Rural Residential and Agricultural areas.

The City Council discussed limiting wind turbines in these zoning districts to 50 feet in height on properties of 20 acres or larger.

The proposed ordinance amendments limit the maximum size of wind turbines in business and commercial districts to 100 kilowatts in capacity and 200 feet in height, but specific height restrictions would apply to smaller lots. Height limits would be 50 feet on properties smaller than 10 acres, and 120 feet on properties smaller than 20 acres in size. Minimum lot size would be two acres.

Planner Finke and the Planning Commission studied extensively the issue of noise. They came up with noise limits of 6 decibels above the ambient noise level, in situations where ambient noise is above 35 decibels.

Finke gave examples of noise levels in other situations. Normal conversations measure in at 50 to 60 decibels at three feet. Whispering in a quiet room has been measured at 30 decibels, and refrigerator noise at 40 decibels.

The proposed wind turbine ordinance also has provisions regulating solar energy and geothermal systems. Solar energy systems must be connected to a structure and be no higher than five feet above the roofline. The ordinance also regulates reflections from the solar array.



The City Council also:

TABLED a resolution establishing a storm sewer improvement tax district for the Enclave at Brockton Lane housing development until after approval of the final plat and filing of the plat by developer Lennar. The tax district is a back up plan that would provide money for the city to maintain storm water systems, in the event that the homeowners association does not keep up with maintenance.

APPROVED a joint powers agreement with the city of Orono involving construction and maintenance of a trail along Willow Drive in the two cities.

UPDATED a municipal utility service agreement between the cities of Medina and Orono regarding the provision of sanitary sewer service to the Medina Morningside area. The Metropolitan Council has taken over sanitary sewer service to Long Lake, so this city no longer needs to be part of the agreement.