Friday, October 10th–Private Wind Turbines Clear Early Hurdle

OCEAN CITY – The answer to some Ocean City residents’ energy concerns may be “Blowin’ in the Wind”, but that answer did in fact get a little closer to reality this week.

The potential approval of wind turbine technology usage into the Ocean City private sector took another step forward Tuesday, as the city’s Planning and Zoning commission unanimously passed a motion through to a public hearing, which will take place on Nov. 5. After a public hearing, the issue would be taken before the Mayor and City Council and then potentially passed as city ordinance.

Planning and Zoning Department Director Jesse Houston presented the commission with detailed research about what types of wind turbine energy technology might work for Ocean City and outlined possible regulations for usage in Tuesday’s 90-minute meeting.

Although Delaware recently became the first state in the United States to approve offshore “wind farms”, small wind energy systems have been popping up all over the Midwest, converting the kinetic energy from wind and turning it into actual mechanical energy by way of turbine towers.

Houston was quick to advise the commission that the types of wind turbines that would work in Ocean City would “be intended to primarily reduce on-site consumption of energy, but would not absolutely replace utility power.”

That said, Houston outlined possible regulations that should be considered before any windmills were installed in Ocean City, citing obvious concerns like safety, aesthetics and effect on property values, but also pointing out the best place to locate them in order for them to be effective.

In an urban setting like Ocean City, one of the drawbacks to this type of power being effective is the wind speed that would be generated. Usually, these turbines sit up at least 80 feet in and are located in open spaces, so placing a windmill on your half-acre lot “may not generate enough wind speed for the turbine to be effective,” Houston said.

Placing the turbines on rooftops would be an option, according to Houston, thus cutting down on the wind obstruction from the buildings in the city grid. Legally, the lowest point of the rotor should be 25 feet higher than the roof itself. Rooftop installation would certainly cut back on urban obstructions of wind, but would raise the question and concern if the building was structurally sound enough to safely harbor such a device.

According to Houston, the effectiveness of all of this is simply based on wind speed.

“You need a good wind supply, obviously, and I think that there are certain places in town that this type of technology would work, but it’s up to the public to decide first before it goes before the mayor and city council,” he said.

As for the wind generated in this area, according to the wind maps created by the US Department of Energy, there are seven classes of wind, with a class seven being the highest. Offshore in Ocean City earns a 4 rating, and onshore earns a 3 rating, but these ratings are based off of winds measured in the area at 50 m or 160 feet. As aforementioned, the normal height for these turbines is 80 feet.

Local residents Larry Layton and Jim Motsko have been vocal in trying to make this idea become a local reality, challenging the council to acknowledge the benefits of being ahead of the game concerning alternative energy, with Layton going as far as bringing a New York Times Magazine article before the council.

According to the article, the interest in wind turbine technology is reaching a level somewhere on the border of “hobby and an environmental fashion statement.” It goes on to say that though large turbines have shown a quick turnaround or payback in the amount of stored energy produced by the turbines, the amounts set up by the smaller turbines remains to be determined to be worth the initial investment.

Currently, there is nothing in the current code that would allow wind turbines in Ocean City, but it should be noted that that same code exempts flagpoles and radio towers, as well.

Commission member Lauren Taylor feels wind turbines should be allowed for those property owners who can desire them and can afford them.

“This is the wave of the future, so I think that we should make it easy for someone to do it, who can do it,” she said. “I think many will want to do it, but few will actually be able to once they look into it further.”

It only makes sense that those with large lots or those living on the water would be the best candidates for this type of technology, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only place that it will work, some say.

Other concerns that residents in Ocean City will no doubt have as far as regulating these turbines would be aesthetics and noise levels.

Houston noted that the decibel levels created by these turbines (50-55 dBA) are less than that of an air conditioner unit (70-75 dBA), and advised that the color restrictions should be kept at the manufacturer’s “default colors” of gray or white.

Contrary to what some think, Houston said there is no impact on neighboring property values from wind turbines.

Houston said no evidence shows a decrease in property value if your neighbor were to install one of these turbines. In fact, Houston said, “several studies, showed it actually raised them.”