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City board defers to council on setting windmill policy

May 22, 2008
Members of a city review board unofficially agreed Tuesday that installing a personal wind turbine on a residential property just inside the Marshalltown city limits would be a good fit, but they held off from steering the beginnings of a residential wind turbine policy that currently does not exist.

“There are a litany of other issues. I have very little problem with your property,” Board of Adjustment member Sherm Welker told Garland and Julie Schossow, who sought a variance to the 35-foot height limitation at their 1811 E. Merle Hibbs Blvd. home in order to put up a 71-foot tall windmill, “but if I say yes to you, how can I justify a no to somebody else? We’re making up the rules as we go and even though we have the authority, I don’t know if that’s in the public’s best interest.”

Board members expressed doubt that the height limit caused any real hardship to the Schossows, but facing an irreversible, unappealable decision except through district court, they voted unanimously to table their vote until Sept. 1 in hopes that the city would get a windmill plan in place by then.

“The only hardship I can see is if we give the city time to enact an ordinance and they don’t enact one, but I don’t feel comfortable setting policy,” Welker said. “... The town has codes and regulations and it’s this board’s responsibility to see hardships where the status quo can’t be reached. The problem is in this case the hardship is being self-induced, but please don’t think this is a sign that we don’t think this is a good thing. Personally I think these are great.”

City Planner Stephen Troskey said a policy for wind turbines is already in the works but estimated it would take at a minimum four to five months for staff to finish writing it, for the city attorney to check it over and sign off on it, for the Plan & Zoning Commission to hold two readings and then make a recommendation to the city council, which would hold three readings on the issue.

“You’ve prompted some discussion and public dialogue and I hope that pushes this to the right avenue,” said board member Dave Schulze. “... We need to deal with this new technology in a consistent way.”

Currently industrial zones are the only places windmills could be placed and still fit within height limitations, Troskey said. Residential zones have a limit of 35 feet on any structure.

Traditionally, variances have stayed within 10 percent over current regulations, said board chair Ward Miller, and the windmill request is twice as high.

After much personal research, the Schossows decided to pursue building the 20 kilowatt wind turbine in April. That windmill is approximately 10 times as powerful as the Skystream windmills put up last fall by a pair of property owners just south of Marshalltown, but the biggest commercial wind farm turbines can produce more than 100 times the electricity of the Schossows’.

“Anything that’s renewable energy right now is appealing,” Garland said of the couple’s desire to build the wind generator.

“The cost of fuel, cost of everything is going up. We hope it will pay for itself and we won’t have the energy costs,” Julie added.

That may be 10 to 12 years down the road, depending on a number of variables including energy cost saved from Consumers Energy and realized energy output from the turbine. There are also tax incentives that sweeten the prospect, said Joe Hansen, vice president of product development for Farm Boy Energy, which will be installing the windmill.

The Schossows’ lot was annexed into the city in the past decade, they said, and is surrounded by agricultural land.

“We got nothing for being annexed. ... Higher taxes and a streetlight. That’s it,” Garland said, noting the property could not hook into the city’s water or sewer systems.


Contact Ryan Brinks at 641-753-6611 or


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