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Published April 20, 2009, 07:45 AM

With eye to the future, council amends turbine ordinance

The winds of change might be on their way — and Cottage Grove wants to be out front.

By: Jon Avise, South Washington County Bulletin

The winds of change might be on their way — and Cottage Grove wants to be out front.

City council members on April 15 approved amendments to Cottage Grove’s two decades-old zoning ordinances that cover wind turbines, establishing more stringent permitting and adding a public hearing requirement for businesses and homeowners interested in harnessing wind power for electricity.

The ordinance amendments are “more precautionary, if you will,” said community development director Howard Blin, “because we anticipate there will be greater demand” for wind turbines in the future.

Small wind turbines aren’t yet proliferating on roofs and powering homes in great numbers. But, Blin said, the day may come when the environmentally friendly energy producers start popping up across suburban landscapes.

Already, School District 833’s new East Ridge High School in Woodbury has discussed constructing a wind turbine to help meet the school’s energy needs. And with energy prices and homeowners’ electricity bills on the rise, Blin said Cottage Grove officials didn’t want to be left reacting to a trend after the fact.

“The thing that I see is, at some point, it may become economically feasible in a residential lot” to build a wind turbine, he said. “So that’s why we wanted to make sure we were ahead of the curve.”

The existing ordinance allowed larger turbines to be built in industrial and agricultural zones with rotor blades up to 50 feet long, and turbines with blades up to 35 feet long in residential neighborhoods. An amendment to the ordinance capped the height for a wind turbine on a Cottage Grove home at 15 feet above the home’s roof and limited it to producing 10 kilowatts of power.

Under the existing ordinance, wind turbines were permitted in most zones, requiring only a building permit. Now, those interested in building a wind turbine on their property are required to obtain a conditional use permit.

The newly passed ordinance also includes a public hearing requirement. Senior planner John McCool said the planning commission believed “there should be some type of public hearing” to allow for comment from neighbors.

There’s no question, Blin said, a turbine perched on a Cottage Grove home would look odd. But down the road they may be an accepted part of evolving suburban scenery.

“Who knows,” Blin said, “maybe 20 years from now everyone will have one.”