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A simpler way to green energy in Pierce County?

The Pierce County Board is set to vote next week on an ordinance that will make it easier and cheaper to obtain permits to install small wind or solar energy systems.

"This is basically a recognition of the changing face of energy," Land Management Administrator Andy Pichotta said. The use of alternative energy is something that should be encouraged, so it makes sense to make the permit process easy, he said.

Currently county landowners must go through the conditional-use permit process before installing any wind or solar energy generating system. The fee is $300 and the process involves getting approval from the town board, a public hearing, two legal-notice publications in the official newspaper and notification of neighbors.

The amendment will allow property owners get a simple over-the-counter permit to erect or install a small energy system. The fee will be $100.

The ordinance amendment defines a small wind energy system 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.

An exception to the onsite use requirement allows property owners to pass on excess electrical energy to their utility company.

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

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.

The ordinance requires that 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 seen little in the way of solar energy systems and the code applies only when the proposed system is over 1,000 square feet in size.

There is greater local interest in wind energy. In past few years Pierce County has issued permits for eight or nine wind towers.

No one has applied for a wind energy permit recently, but Pichotta said it's his understanding that a number of folks are waiting for the amendment to take effect before they apply for a permit.

State law gives the county few reasons to deny a permit for personal wind or solar energy systems, Pichotta said. "Basically you have to have a real good reason to tell them no."

The County Board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the conference room in the Highway Department building.