OCEAN CITY – Five years later, the first ground-mounted monopole base wind turbine is approved for installation in Ocean City.
Last Tuesday evening, the Planning and Zoning Commission held a subsequent public hearing to consider Ocean City resident James Motsko’s request for a Conditional Use in the R-2 Medium Residential District to permit installation of one ground-mounted small wind turbine in the area of 6th Street on the bayside.
In early October, a public hearing was held before the commission regarding the installation of the wind turbine but the hearing was postponed to provide an opportunity for Motsko’s engineer to be in attendance to address noise concerns. At that time, the commission also requested a private noise reading be conducted.
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith acknowledged Motsko’s request is the first for a monopole base wind turbine within the limits of Ocean City, and he is “the author of bringing wind turbines into Ocean City” as he has been working on this matter since 2009.
Upon Motsko’s request, in 2009 the council passed an ordinance allowing wind turbines in Ocean City based on a Conditional Use permit.
The original ordinance stated, “the base of the tower shall be set back from all adjacent property lines, public right-of-way, and public utility lines a distance equal to 1.1 times the total height. A turbine may be located closer to a property line if the abutting property owner grants appropriate easements.”
An issue arose when Motsko requested to install the wind turbine on the waterline of his property, resulting in approval being needed from the Maryland Department of Environment, and it was discovered the regulatory agency did not grant easements but would grant permission.
The ordinance was then amended to state, “Properties located on open waterfront may locate a turbine closer to the shoreline provided they obtain approval from appropriate regulatory agencies.”
Ocean City’s Code regarding small wind energy systems also includes no specific height limitation, except as may be imposed by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, as long as the total height meets setback requirements; sound produced by the system under normal operating conditions, as measured at the property line, shall not exceed 55 dBA. The sound level may be exceeded during short-term events such as utility outages and/or severe windstorms; and no illumination of the system shall be permitted unless required by the FAA or unless the tower is also used for street or parking lot lighting, or some similar compatible use.
Although there were no public speakers in opposition during the public hearing last week, several emails were submitted stating concerns over the level of noise the small wind turbine would generate.
A series of emails was submitted by Motsko’s neighbor, John Cronin of The Islander Condos, who argued the proposed wind turbine will greatly exceed the noise requirements.
“Town ordinance states that noise levels shall not exceed 55 dBA. Noise levels may exceed 55 dBA under conditions of severe windstorms. A severe windstorm is defined by the National Weather Service as wind speeds of 57 mph and above. The proposed wind turbine exceeds 55 dBA at wind speeds as low as 18 mph, according to data provided by the manufacturer itself. The noise clearly is in violation of the applicable ordinance. There is no question about this,” the email read.
On Nov. 18, Sgt. Mark Paddack of the Ocean City Police Department per request of the commission conducted a noise meter reading of an existing small wind turbine located outside of the corporate limits of Ocean City owned by Monty Lewis on the Isle of Wight Bay.
Motsko and his engineer, Stacey Hart of J. Stacey Hart & Associates, Inc., attended the meter reading and were in attendance for the public hearing.
According to the report, Hart measured an exact distance of 50 feet from the wind turbine to a point which would serve as an imaginary property line as if on Motsko’s property. Paddack was slightly up wind from the turbine during the first test. Then Paddack moved slightly down wind and to the south 50 feet from the wind turbine.
The NOAA weather monitoring station located at the Ocean City Municipal Airport reported for Nov. 18 wind gusting was 13 to 28 mph. Paddack believed these conditions were exceptional for testing, but the higher level wind gusts caused leaves and tree limbs to create some additional ambient noise in the area.
Paddack conducted a series of test samples of noise emanating from the wind turbine. Based on the readings, Paddack found the wind turbine complied with the noise ordinance during day hours as define by American National Standards institute (ANSI).
The same readings during the night time hours would place the wind turbine in compliance of the noise ordinance as defined by ANSI with the exception of higher wind speed gusts of post 28 mph.
The low tone swishing sound of the three blades at 28 mph winds pushed the max to 59 dbs. However, at this wind speed level or greater, there is an overall increase in the ambient noise from the wind not just the three blades of the turbine. Therefore, overall noise from higher gusting winds would overshadow some of the swishing sound of the blades.
At this time, Motsko made the suggestion on filling the tower of the wind turbine with foam insulation to reduce the low tone humming sound, which was present during the testing and below the ANSI standard.
Hart added the manufacturer, XZERES, has a feature that prevents the blades from spinning too fast during high winds because they could damage the wind turbine.
“What happens with these wind turbines is if you get a really high wind the system actually shuts down and the blades will lock,” Hart said during the public hearing. “I don’t think you are going to hear the 55 dBA at night. Typically the winds die down at night, and most of the winds come in during the winter time and there is nobody at this building [Islander] in the winter time.”
Motsko furthered data reflects a 15-percent in reduction in noise when the pole is insulated.
The public hearing was closed and the commission began deliberation.
Commission member Peck Miller pointed out if the police department received a noise complaint over the turbine an officer will respond to take a reading and if the reading is 55 dBA or over the turbine becomes non-compliant and the usage will come to a stop.
“If the public has a problem, we have a process to take care of that,” he said.
Miller made a motion to grant the Conditional Use permit based on the wind turbine pole being insulated, and Motsko being a good neighbor by following the regulations set forth by the town.
“I have seen Monty’s pole in action many times, and I think it is a quiet efficient energy use. I would understand the Islander’s concerns over esthetics and the fear of lighting but as Peck stated there is a process for noise and recourse,” Commission member Chris Shanahan said.
Commission member Lauren Taylor added the reality is the Islander is vacant nine months out of the year.
“If we were having a major storm or weather event, it wouldn’t be occupied. As the motion states, it will be an insulated pole and he will have to make sure he is in compliance, I think that is perfectly reasonable,” she said.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve the Conditional Use permit for Motsko to install the ground-mounted small wind turbine with members Pam Buckley and John Staley absent.
Motsko is a well-known name in Ocean City as he and his family members organize the White Marlin Open each August.