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Steps to install windmills made easier in Pierce County

ELLSWORTH -- The Pierce County Board voted Tuesday night to make it easier and cheaper to get permits to install small wind or solar energy systems.

The use of alternative energy is something that should be encouraged, so it makes sense to make the permit process easier, said Land Management Administrator Andy Pichotta. The department began working on the regulation revisions about a year ago.

The old rules required landowners to go through the conditional-use permit process before installing any wind or solar energy generating system. That fee is $300 and the process involves getting approval from the town board, having a public hearing, publishing two legal notices in the official newspaper and notifying neighbors.

The revised law allows property owners to get a simple over-the-counter permit to erect or install a small energy system. The fee is $100.

A small wind energy system is defined as one that has a generating capacity of 100 kilowatts or less and a total height of less than 200 feet and is intended to supply electrical power for onsite use.

A small solar energy system is equipment that directly converts and then transfers or stores solar energy into usable heat or electrical energy for onsite use.

"Large" wind or solar systems are commercial systems that generate power for offsite consumption.

The county ordinance requires that a small wind tower must be set back a distance equal to 110 percent of its height from road right-of-way, property lines and overhead utility lines.

Small wind towers must be removed within 90 days of discontinuation of use, but footings and foundations may be left in place as long as they are at or below ground level.

Pichotta said the county has issued permits for eight or nine windmills in the last several years. He knows of a few people who are waiting for the rule change to apply for a permit.