Private Wind Turbines Clear Planning Commission

OCEAN CITY – Small Wind Energy Systems took another step toward approval on Tuesday, despite the Planning and Zoning Commission being a bit apprehensive to throw all caution to the wind for residential districts.

The Planning and Zoning Commission amended an ordinance at Tuesday’s public hearing that would allow the permitted and accessory usage of small wind turbines in Ocean City making it a bit harder for turbines to be installed in residential or R-1 districts in the city grid.

“I think the big issue for this commission is to protect the neighbors in all the R-1 districts, said Chairperson Pam Buckley. “My only concern with this ordinance is how applicable this is for R-1 districts.  The hotels and all other commercial districts, I’m all for it.”

Based on Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith’s presentation, which explained the ordinance point by point, small wind turbines would be allowed as long as certain architectural and structural provisions were followed and the turbines produced no more than 100 kilowatts of power, which is far greater than the 10 kilowatts that it takes to power a single-family home.

The ordinance lays down pretty strict guidelines to protect adjacent properties to the potential turbines, calling for a setback for the total height of the turbine from the property line.  Simply put, if you have a 50-foot turbine tower, you have to put it back 60 feet from your property line.

This setback rule will make it difficult for residents to install “free standing” wind turbines on the small lots in the Ocean City grid, but would be quite doable for bigger lots that sit on the bay or the ocean front, according to Smith.

The ordinance also mentions the fact that even if a wind turbine is installed in Ocean City, it is not protected in the case of future development which could effect access to wind.

“We can’t guarantee that you’ll get free wind forever.  Wind that may be here today, might be gone tomorrow with building and development in Ocean City, so we can’t protect the wind source for the user,” Smith said.

Representatives from Flexera, a Delaware-based alternative energy company that installs wind turbines such as the ones that would be used in Ocean City presented some points to the commission and to the public describing some of the foreign terminology and answered questions on the turbines effectiveness.

“I think that this ordinance protects you from any safety concerns that you might have for adjacent properties, said Flexera CEO Robert Light. “The 100 kilowatts would be virtually impossible to achieve in a residential area, but it also gives ample room to maneuver for growth in technology and for commercial properties.”

The majority of the turbine types that would be potentially installed either on Ocean City rooftops or properties, are anywhere from 1.2 kilowatts or 2.5 kilowatts and can create power to greatly reduce your energy bill by “about a third to a half”, according to Light, who also said “that in order to gain higher kilowatt power, users often put several turbines in clusters to generate more power,” citing Larry Layton’s plan to put 20 turbines on his Ocean City property.

Commission members seemed extremely apprehensive at the 100 kilowatts number being allowed in residential areas despite Light’s comments that it would be essentially unattainable and decided to amend the ordinance to allow turbines with no more than 10 kilowatts of power in R-1 districts by special exception hearing only.

Safety, as in most cases with the commission was one of the biggest if not the biggest concern, and the ordinance calls for the towers to be unclimbable, torn down if abandoned for more than 12 months, or either fixed or torn down within 30 days of becoming inoperable.

Dagsboro resident Greg Menoche, who has a free-standing wind turbine on his property, said that some of the provisions were a bit off as far as safety goes and tried to paint a picture for the public about their durability.

“These turbines have an engineer stamp that say they are made to withstand 140 mph winds.  Most of the structures in Ocean City wouldn’t withstand those winds, so if that type of thing happen, everything would be on the ground and the installed turbines would be left standing,” he said.

In the end, commission members were very much in favor of the forward steps Ocean City residents want to take toward alternative energy, with the only real disdain for the ordinance concerning the residential and mobile home districts.

“I’m fine with this if it works in Ocean City and they keep up structural integrity and give special exemption only for R-1 district,” Commission member Peck Miller said.

The ordinance will now go to the Board of Zoning Appeals and to the Mayor and City Council, but it appears that Ocean City will be, at least on a small scale, opening doors to explore what Light called the “still developing technologies” of renewable energy, less pollution, and the monetary savings from utility service.

“This is certainly a step in the right direction in making Ocean City a greener place,” Commission member Chris Shanahan said.

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