Ordinance to regulate wind generation, solar energy systems

An ordinance regulating wind powered generators and solar energy systems in Coon Rapids was adopted by the Coon Rapids City Council May 20.

The ordinance was drafted by Planner Scott Harlicker and recommended by the Coon Rapids Planning Commission at the request of the Coon Rapids Sustainability Commission.

According to Harlicker, he is not aware of any wind powered generators or solar energy systems in Coon Rapids at this time, but the sustainability commission wanted some rules in place for when they do occur.

Language in the ordinance, which creates an alternative energy sources and systems section in city code, is based on research and information provided by the Green Step Cities program, the American Planning Association and similar codes in other municipalities, Harlicker told the council.

Under the ordinance, wind powered generators would be allowed as an accessory structure or use requiring a building permit. In residential zoning districts, they would also need conditional use permit approval from the planning commission, while in commercial and industrial districts mounted wind generators would be a permitted use, but ground mounted systems would have to have a conditional use permit.

Solar energy systems would also be allowed as an accessory structure or use needing a building permit, but they would not require a zoning permit.

According to Harlicker, there is also an administrative variance section for solar energy systems to allow variances from aesthetic, setback and height requirements to permit a property owner to meet minimum design thresholds, Harlicker wrote in his memo to the council.

Requirements in the wind powered generators section of the ordinance include no climbing apparatus located within 12 feet of the ground; must be mono pole design; minimum distance between the ground and blade to be 15 feet; no lighting except as required by the Federal Aviation Administration; maximum height measured from the ground to the highest point of the blades to be 60 feet in residential and commercial zoning districts, 100 feet in industrial districts; generators must be setback from all property lines at least 1.1 times the overall height; and maximum size generator capacity of 50 kilowatts.

For solar energy systems, regulations include screening from view of the nearest edge of the public right of way; they are not required to be the same color as the roof or principle structure; roof mounted systems must comply with the maximum height requirements of the applicable zoning district and must not extend beyond the existing perimeter of the building; and ground mounted systems cannot be more than 15 feet in height and must meet setbacks for accessory structure.s

The solar energy system requirements brought no council discussion, but concerns by two councilmembers, Jerry Koch and Denise Klint, over the impact of wind powered generators prompted them to vote against the ordinance, which passed 5-2.

They were specifically concerned about noise from wind powered systems bothering neighbors and where the generators could be located, and wanted the council to delay action on the ordinance for further discussion at a work session.

“I cannot support it right now,” Koch said.

Klint agreed. “There are too many unknowns,” she said. “We need to do more research.”

But the majority of the council was in agreement that it was better to have an ordinance in place to deal with wind powered generators and solar energy systems before they come in, and then make changes, if needed, to accommodate advances in technology.

“I would rather have an ordinance in place than do nothing,” said Mayor Tim Howe. “We need to have some ground rules to make sure there is no impact on neighborhoods.”

Under the ordinance, towers and generators would have to abide by current noise requirements in city code, which uses Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards, Harlicker said.

Those standards are 60 decibels for daytime and 50 decibels at night, he said.

But Koch said wind powered generators would be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week and when residents had their windows open at night when everything else was quiet, that could be “very annoying.”

According to Harlicker, setback requirements in the ordinance for wind powered generators would preclude them from being installed on typical residential lots in Coon Rapids.

While they could be accommodated within setbacks on some larger lots in Coon Rapids, that would not include river residential lots in the city because they would be prohibited on those parcels by Mississippi River Critical Corridor Area regulations, Harlicker said.