Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Slow down on wind turbines

Kathy Lynn, of Ketchum, has been a resident of the Wood River Valley for 32 years.


Blaine County commissioners are formulating an ordinance to allow wind turbine towers in the Wood River Valley. As proposed, the ordinance would allow windmills 40 feet tall with 12-foot blades within the scenic corridor along Highway 75.

Protection of our scenic corridor has been a high priority with previous county administrations. Under existing rules, a 40-foot tower is not allowed. The commissioners are now proposing that wind turbine towers be allowed to be built with a conditional-use permit. However, the proposed ordinance will make it very difficult for a windmill to be denied.

Wind turbine construction has been very controversial in all parts of the United States, yet our commissioners are writing this ordinance without the input of Blaine County citizens. The impetus and direction for this ordinance is almost entirely from a manufacturer of residential wind turbines and from other promoters of wind turbines from outside the valley. These outside interests have dominated discussions at commissioner meetings. Very few residents have attended.

Our Planning and Zoning Commission spent many hours preparing a wind turbine tower ordinance for the commissioners. It recommended that this issue be approached cautiously and that wind turbine towers be excluded from the scenic corridor. County commissioners, at the beginning of their discussion, rejected the P&Z proposal and are now writing an entirely new ordinance. They have made no effort to notify Blaine County residents about this controversial issue, which will have a very large effect on the appearance of our beautiful valley. Commission Chairman Larry Schoen has stated that he has no problem with the aesthetics of wind turbines and feels that they should be allowed in the scenic areas. He also stated that Blaine County should be promoting wind towers (Idaho Mountain Express, Aug. 28).

It is well known that the Wood River Valley is a low-wind area. An anemometer in the mid valley (at 60 feet) has recorded an average wind speed of less than 7 mph over the past year. Wind turbines require an average wind speed of 12-14 mph to be a viable entity and to produce even a minimal amount of electricity. This viability issue has been rejected by the commissioners. Wind towers in low-wind areas are not green.

How do other resorts deal with wind towers? The Lake Tahoe area prohibits them in its scenic corridor. A recent sightseeing trip through Colorado, passing through Telluride, Vail, Beaver Creek, Glenwood Springs, Winter Park and Estes Park, showed no windmills. Does Sun Valley want to lead the way with windmills as part of the scenic entrance to our resort? Our scenic corridor should be protected at all costs.

The county commissioners need to hear from Blaine County residents. They need to know that our scenic corridor is a big part of what makes the Wood River Valley a special place to live, work and visit. This ordinance will affect us all (tourists, homeowners, tourists businesses, commuters, lodging, real estate agents, all the cities in the valley, contractors and other businesses). Whether you approve of wind towers in the scenic corridor or if you object to them, contact your county commissioners now. Wood River Valley residents should be the ones deciding how wind towers affect our valley.

The commissioners are in the final stages of this important ordinance. Once these towers are built, they become a permanent part of our landscape.

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