With the 2040 Comprehensive Plan process underway in cities across the Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota, a large focus has been on the importance of increasing wind and solar energy in our communities. For these resources to grow, cities around the area must have policies in place to support them. Support comes from many different areas but the backbone of that support must be the adoption of ordinance language that does not prohibit people from investing in these resources.
We currently have in place many complicated codes surrounding the development of wind projects. In many cases, certain rules make it difficult for people to invest in wind turbines because it may or may not be an economic decision in certain areas. But, it is for the individual to decide whether their investment is worthwhile. Examples of codes that make wind development difficult are height restrictions. In most cases there is a minimum height wind turbines must be built at to produce enough energy to allow for a viable return on investment. Codes that restrict heights reduce the ability for the owner to recoup their investment.
An example of great model language comes out of Iowa and their Small Wind Innovation Zones. The Small Wind Innovation Zone model ordinance from the Iowa Utilities Board provides language that is conducive to the growth of wind resources throughout the area. What sets this ordinance language apart is the lack of codes that unnecessarily limits wind turbines. For example, height restrictions are not included in this language. Maximum heights are not set and are instead regulated by setback distances. Setbacks are the distances required between wind systems and nearby dwellings, roads, property lines, and any other structure. The distance a wind system must be setback is measured by the height of the system in addition to a buffer. This eliminates the need for height restrictions that reduce the economic viability of these resources. The Small Wind Innovation Zone model ordinance also includes other common sense safety codes that have been in place since 2010 and have seen success in the Iowa counties that have adopted these measures.
This is a great tool for Minnesota cities to base their ordinance language on. Many residents have stated their desire to grow the amount of clean energy powering their cities. Discussing renewable energy in Comprehensive plans and adopting model language such as this is a great first step to achieving that goal.