Longview man's wind turbine project on hold

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Four months ago, Longview Realtor Bill Hallanger bought an $8,000 windmill from an Arizona company and set out to put it up on the nearly 8 acres he owns on Nevada Drive.Hallanger figured the project would be a fun experiment. He’d learn about renewable energy and maybe shave a little money off his electric bill.

But the project has taken on a more urgent purpose. Despite looming worries about energy prices and supply shortages, the technology isn’t yet covered by the county’s zoning laws, and that has stalled Hallanger’s effort.

Hallanger, the chairman of Longview’s diking district and an oft-noisy critic of government, said he’s using his windmill project to prod the county into preparing for a potential crush of residents who may want to take advantage of wind or solar power in the not-too-distant future.

Cowlitz County officials said this week Hallanger can’t yet put the windmill up because its zoning ordinances don’t address basic questions, such as noise and design. Hallanger could apply for a special use permit, Commissioner George Raiter said, but that could prove expensive and time-consuming — and there’s no guarantee the permit would be granted.

The county’s Building and Planning Department formed an advisory group last month to write policies for renewable energy. The panel, Raiter said, may have a draft policy before the county’s planning commission in the next two months.

“You can’t issue permits on something without knowing impacts,” Raiter said Tuesday. “It affects your neighbors and the environment to some extent.”

Hallanger studied forestry in college, but he says he’s no zealous environmentalist.

“When I first started this everybody looked at me and said, ‘You? Green? Give me a break.’ I think I’m a greenie. But people who know me shake their head and say ‘Bill, that’s not you.’ ”

But, Hallanger said, the windmill would supply about 10 percent of his household’s electricity.

Manufactured by an Arizona company called Skystream, the windmill is powered by 6-foot blades and would rise 45 feet above the ground. The sound of the turbine, he said, is barely audible from 20 or 30 feet away. Hallanger said his nearest neighbor’s property line is about 150 feet from the site where he’ll put the windmill up.

That the county doesn’t have a zoning policy for renewable energy amounts to “bad public policy,” Hallanger said Tuesday.

“I’m going to continue to jump in with both feet and try to make life miserable for the commissioners to get them to move ahead,” he said.

Hallanger, who has attended the energy panel’s meetings, said its members have “barely talked about zoning issues” and that the county is moving too slowly.

“If this committee can get anything to the planning commission at the rate they’re going, I would be amazed,” he said.

Cowlitz County isn’t the only small government trying to figure out how to handle the technology. The Washington Post reported last week that a Maryland resident wanting to build a wind turbine ran into similar problems. A county official had to create a form for the application, the Post story said.

“I think a lot of communities are going through this,” Cowlitz County Commissioner Axel Swanson said Tuesday. “It doesn’t happen overnight. We’re trying to get there.”

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