Half of a mile is 2,640 feet.
That’s how far builders of wind energy projects will have to stay away from homes and other occupied buildings in Tooele County.
Tooele County Commissioners adopted a large wind energy project ordinance at their Tuesday night meeting.
Their approval of the ordinance is the culmination of a five-month process that began in April. That was when the Tooele County Planning Department was approached by Sandy-based Energy of Utah, which wants to build a windmill farm in Tooele County.
The ordinance as adopted by the commissioners discarded the planning commission’s recommendation of a five-mile buffer zone and replaced it with a smaller half-mile buffer zone.
County planning staff and Energy of Utah recommended a buffer zone of two times the distance from the ground to the tip of the blade of a windmill at its highest point.
With a maximum blade height of 600 feet in the ordinance, the buffer zone would be no larger than 1,200 feet.
A survey of other windmill ordinances in Utah and other states revealed a buffer zone closer to 1,200 feet than the proposed five miles, according to county planning staff.
County Commissioner Jerry Hurst made the motion to adopt a half-mile as the buffer zone.
“Five miles is way too much,” he said. “And two times the tip height is too short.”
Commissioner Shawn Milne preferred 1,200 feet. He proposed a compromise at 2,000 feet, but none of his fellow commissioners supported it.
The commission voted 2-1 to approve the ordinance with the half-mile buffer zone.
Residents of the Rawhide subdivision, where Energy of Utah proposed to build windmills along the Stockton Banear homes at Rawhide, are not be happy with the commissioners’ decision, even though it means any windmills will need to be placed north of the Stockton bar from Rawhide.
“A half mile is still too close,” said Thomas Karjola, a Rawhide resident. “We have submitted to the planning commission and the commissioners plenty of research that shows that even within a half-mile there are health and noise problems, and a loss in property values. These things are huge and people just don’t want to live by them.”
Karjola preferred the five-mile buffer recommended by the planning commission but indicated that a mile and one-quarter may have been an acceptable compromise.
“Now the commissioners are going to be subject to lawsuits either way,” said Karjola. “If they force developers to build a half-mile out, the developers will probably sue. If they approve a project at half-mile, it will cause health problems and lower property values and property owners will sue.”