County Board denies request for reduced wind turbine fee

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

The County Board denied a resident’s request for a reduced wind turbine permit fee at Tuesday’s meeting. Although Lakin Township resident Andrew Wright addressed the Board at a recent meeting, his request for a lower fee was not formally presented.

Wright proposes installing a small wind turbine for personal use on 40 acres in the woods. The proposed turbine’s capacity will not be high enough for Wright to sell energy back to a utility.

The county assesses a $300 fee per turbine, regardless of size, capacity or intended use. Wright requested that the county revisit the land use ordinance regarding both the fee and the standards set in the ordinance for wind energy systems.

“It seems odd that we encourage alternative energy and right away we have a ‘money grab,’” said Commissioner Don Meyer.

“This clearly is a small generator,” said Commissioner Kevin Maurer. “People are going to be prevented from doing this. We’re going to be reviewing this ordinance, but that doesn’t help us today. A reasonable fee would be $75.”

The county has previously permitted approximately four wind turbines at a fee of $300 each. They are all classified as commercial because of their capacity.

“There is a difference between the ones we’ve already permitted and this small one,” Maurer said. “Why do we discount the intrepid entrepreneur who wants to be self-sufficient? He wants to comply with the system; he’s put in the effort — let’s not deter that.”

“This is such a tiny operation, $300 seems almost laughable,” Meyer said. “I was a part of the original ordinance process, but we don’t always get everything right.”

“The county has the right to adjust fees on an annual or even an individual basis,” said County Attorney Brian Middendorf. “It’s just not a recommended practice.”

“We have a current ordinance revision on the table for septic standards,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber. “We do that about twice a year. The next go-round we’ll look at this.”

The Board voted 3-2 against reducing the fee for Wright’s proposed turbine. Meyer and Maurer voted to support the request.

Commissioner Randy Winscher voted against because he personally could not “support lowering the fee. What’s going to stop him from making it taller or more powerful?”

“I have no problem with reducing the fee,” said Commissioner Jeff Jelinski, “but I agree with what the county attorney said about this not being a good practice. I support looking at a sliding fee scale.”

Board Chair Duane Johnson said that “everyone will want to come in and have their fees changed. That would open a can of worms. We’ll look at the ordinance.”

Morrison County Board Briefs

Other business that came before the Morrison County Commissioners Tuesday morning included:

• Proclaiming November to be National Adoption Month in Morrison County;

• Hearing that providing Sentenced to Serve crews in the county continues to be a challenge. “The crews have been very small, two to three people,” said Sheriff Michel Wetzel. “And the people we do have are working on the Boys and Girls Club project and on a project at Camp Shamineau;”

• Approving the replacement of a Social Services eligibility worker after the previous worker took a position in another county;

• Approving the Minnesota Trails Assistance Program agreement for fiscal year 2014 and authorizing the funding of $133,734 to be disbursed as it is received. “The funds come in three times a year,” said County Auditor Russ Nygren;

• Approving a request from the budget committee for capital equipment: 12 training laptops to be funded by the county recorder’s compliancy fund, cost not to exceed $9,500; an upgrade of the county’s Citrix server, to be funded from the Social Services assigned fund balance, not to exceed $9,000; and the purchase of two computers and monitors for the assessor’s office, funded by the capital equipment fund, not to exceed $1,200; and

• Authorizing Public Works Supervisor Steve Backowski to review and make the final payment for this year’s transportation improvement projects.

The Board will hold a planning session Tuesday, at 8:30 a.m. in the board room of the County Government Center.