Agenda Item No. 19. Joint Meeting with Planning Commission - Work Session - Wind Turbines.
Planning Commission members present: Mr. Bill Edgerton, Mr. Don Franco, Ms. Marcia Joseph, Mr. Tom Loach, Ms. Julia Monteith (UVA non-voting member), Mr. Calvin Morris and Ms. Linda Porterfield,
Absent: Mr. Eric Strucko.
Mr. Mark Graham, Director of Community Development, said the purpose of this meeting is to establish the rationale for investigating the use of wind turbines, to educate the members on wind energy opportunities and challenges in the County, and to determine if the current proposal meets the Board’s expectations. He said when the Board adopted the Cool Counties Climate Stabilization Declaration in 2007, a goal of that was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. The only way that can be accomplished is to look at alternative forms of energy that don’t emit greenhouse gasses. Also, in the Sustainability Section of the Comprehensive Plan there is a goal for providing a sustainable community without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Also, a 2007 strategy specifically mentions alternative energy as something that should be considered. Also, the Board asked staff to investigate the use of wind turbines.
Mr. Graham said there are small, large and utility turbines. He will focus on the small ones today. He will give a brief perspective on the large utility ones, but the Planning Commission and staff basically focused on the small ones. The issue with the large utility type is the size; they are huge. He checked to determine the size of the biggest one and found that it has a span for the turbine blades of 413 feet. He showed on the screen an illustration of the largest one that is not lit; lighting has always been a concern of the Board. A commercial-sized turbine for an industrial plant is about 198 feet tall. That is about as big as it can be without lighting. All others require significant lighting due to FAA restrictions. He pointed out several pictures on the screen of how they would appear in a mountain ridge landscape.
Mr. Graham said the next question concerns wind opportunities in the County. Realistically, most of Albemarle County is considered fairly poor for wind energy. Mountain ridges provide the best opportunities for wind power. There are some opportunities in areas with “micro-climates” - these are very small areas that due to their topography channel wind and provide opportunities in lower elevations. Also, the turbines need to be outside of interference areas – this is a requirement of the Department of Energy which says they should be sited at about 30 feet above the nearest tree within about 300 feet of the turbine. Looking at that in terms of what it means in the County, the cost-effectiveness is proportional to the prevailing wind. If there is not sufficient wind, it takes longer to break even on cost, and if the life span of the wind turbine is lowered, there never would be a break-even point. That’s one of the challenges in Albemarle County. He said there is an interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and there are limited wind resources, but there are some places where they would work. The best opportunities are on the mountain ridges, but the visual impacts are the highest there. As to the economics, it must be recognized that the County’s review process can be a significant part of the cost, and that cost might be the tipping point.
Mr. Graham said staff and the Planning Commission are suggesting a tiered approach. Tier One would create the lowest visual impact and would be treated as a by-right use. Tier Two, with a slightly higher visual impact, would require a waiver by the Commission and it would be done through supplemental regulations in the Zoning Ordinance. Tier Three would have the highest visual impact and would require a special use permit.
Mr. Graham explained that a Tier One turbine would be limited to the rural areas, and would be restricted to no more than the height of buildings allowed in that zoning district; for the rural area that is 35 feet. Turbines would not be allowed in the Mountain Overlay or Entrance Corridor areas, and setback from the property line would be determined by a formula (height of the structure plus 20 feet) in order to address the issue of a falling turbine or times when ice forms on the blades so when it turns that ice is thrown off. No lighting of any kind would be permitted on a wind turbine, and no co-location of personal wireless antennae on the facility.
Mr. Graham then showed on the screen an example of what could be placed on an RA property at this time. There could be a 35-foot tall wind turbine, and it would have to be a minimum of 55 feet from the property line. The visual impact of that turbine from the adjoining property line would be less than accessory buildings on that same property. He presented several examples of wind turbines, noting variables that impact their effectiveness such as wind coming off of water. He said the Planning Commission could grant a waiver for Tier Two turbines in the other zoning districts, including the Mountain Overlay and Entrance Corridor areas, and could also consider co-location of personal wireless facilities on it, as well as lighting and setbacks. He said there was a great deal of discussion about setbacks. He showed a couple of examples of turbines in an Entrance Corridor where it takes advantage of the winds created off of the edge of the buildings because buildings can actually funnel winds.
Mr. Graham said the visual impact of the Tier Three turbines would be the greatest. A special use permit would be required because of that visual impact. Concurrent with that consideration, the Board could grant any of the waivers for the Tier Two turbines. He noted that they could get clearance above the nearby trees so a turbine would be more effective, but also more expensive to build. He said they discussed co- location for wireless facilities, but that is still emerging technology; nobody seems to be doing this yet. He showed a rendering of what such a facility would look like for a 128-foot tower with a 10 kilowatt turbine on top of it; included on the rendering are typical arrays of antennas.
Mr. Graham said another consideration of wind turbines is noise. They did not propose that Zoning Ordinance requirements be modified; those requirements would have to be met. Basically, the noise limit is 55 decibels at nighttime.
Mr. Rooker said there is a difference. If the wind is blowing, the noise is continuous. He is concerned about creating a situation where continuous noise is imposed on neighbors, particularly in situations where the facility is placed closer to the neighbor than to the home of the person constructing the facility.
Mr. Slutzky said according to the website of the Department of Energy an office environment has a higher decibel level than the sound level produced by a wind turbine. A home environment has a slightly higher decibel level than the noise produced by the wind turbine. The question is whether a sound level is something that has to be endured by the neighbors or is it a sound that is relatively speaking benign. Keep in mind that the number 55 decibels means nothing except in context.
Mr. Rooker said that is a good point. He would not want to create a situation where turbines were allowed and it created a problem visually as well as from a noise standpoint. Mr. Graham added that air conditioners are exempted from the County’s Noise Ordinance, and they have been noted at 65 and 70 decibels and could be noisier than wind turbines.
Mr. Slutzky pointed out that 60 is ten times what 50 is. Mr. Graham agreed, noting that decibels are measured on a logo rhythmic scale. He said all wind turbines would not work in all locations. Staff would have to help the property owner look at that issue because there are some very noisy wind turbines on the market mostly due to older technology which has been phased out. He emphasized that Noise Ordinance requirements would have to be met with these facilities.
Mr. Rooker referred to the statements about air conditioners and said that they run at 55 decibels at the source, and not at the property line. Mr. Graham said there are heat pump units running at 70+ decibels measured at 10 feet from the unit. If the property line is only 20 feet away, it does not meet Noise Ordinance requirements. They are specifically exempted from the Noise Ordinance because they cannot meet the requirement in an urban situation.
Mr. Slutzky said that is an issue that needs to be attended to – for context itself the 55 decibels is common.
Mr. Bill Edgerton said that Mr. Jeremy Hayes is going to give a brief presentation. In the presentation he gave to the Planning Commission he indicated that a lot of the noise is caused by the wind itself, not the turbine. Even if there were no turbine, the Noise Ordinance requirements might be exceeded by the wind, and there is no control over the wind. If the amount of noise produced by the turbine can be pulled out of the formula, that would probably be the best way to measure it. From what
was presented to the Commission, he is fairly confident that the majority of the noise will be from the wind itself which will occur whether there is a turbine or not.
Mr. Rooker said all kinds of information is available about the amount of noise produced by these wind turbines, even turbines of the same size. If the County decides to move forward with approving this, he does not know why the County could not require use of better technologies in noise reduction. Mr. Graham agreed.
Mr. Graham said his next point concerns ice throws. The reason for the setback requirements is to make sure that ice throws are not an issue. He said issues with wildlife have been in the press but he has found that the problems with wildlife deal with the utility sized turbines in places such as mountain passes where no one had considered migratory bird patterns. He looked for information about smaller turbines and that problem, and no one has identified that as an issue with that size turbine. He said that Mr. Jeremy Hayes, a private consultant, is present to make a presentation.
Ms. Thomas said she had read the Planning Commission’s minutes and they were very complete and helpful. She had never heard of a helix wind turbine, so asked that he explain exactly what its advantages are, since they appear to be substantial. She wonders if that would be part of how to define a by-right turbine.
Mr. Hayes said he is President of Skyline Turbine, a supplier of small turbines, and a renewable energy supplier for residential and small business customers. It is their mission to research, implement, and install wind power appliances to meet the specific needs of each customer. He said that they envision a day when all aspects of wind, solar and energy efficiencies will be brought together to make their structures self-supporting and contributing to the community. He said Skyline Turbine is committed to supporting local governments and its citizens by fostering communication and utilizing all available means to successfully accomplish each installation.
Mr. Hayes gave a PowerPointe presentation. He showed an image of a large wind farm with turbines in excess of 200 feet tall. He said it is the primary vision people have when talking about wind power projects. He showed a picture of one of their installations in a rural setting. It is an 80-foot lattice tower with a Skystream 3.7 mounted on the top and is an example of a tower with a 50 decibel rating. Reasons to install small wind power include the 30 percent rebate offered by the Federal Government, and connection to a grid which offers the possibility of getting some of the installation money back while providing some or all of the owner’s electricity needs. He then showed a representation of a helix wind turbine in an urban setting. He said in this case the helix turbines are special; they meet many or all of the requirements discussed, are not susceptible to ice throws, and have only a five-decibel maximum output as well as being bird and bat-friendly.
Mr. Rooker asked how the helix wind turbine compares in terms of power production. Mr. Hayes said the smaller unit is a match for the Skystream 3.7 and the larger unit provides double what that unit provides. He said a 2.5 kilowatt generating machine, depending on the wind resource and the consumption of each person, can produce between 40 and 90 percent of most people’s electricity needs. He said that in some cases a five kilowatt turbine is necessary to cover the overall electricity needs of some persons and/or entirely cover their home and produce some excess. There have been many questions about producing excess electricity and the possibility of making money by installing one of these turbines. He generally suggests that is not a good idea. In Virginia the interconnection agreement provides that if energy is taken from the grid it can be replaced at a 1:1 cost, and anything produced in excess is paid back at a wholesale rate – only 44 percent of what it actually costs from an electricity provider.
Mr. Rooker asked Mr. Hayes how long he had been in this business. Mr. Hayes said it has been two and one-half years.
Mr. Rooker asked if he had installed units in various places in Virginia. Mr. Hayes said “yes.”
Mr. Rooker asked if he could provide the names and contact numbers for people who might provide information about how their turbines have worked. Mr. Hayes said “yes.” He cannot provide any helix information from this area because none of them are installed yet. He said Skystream 3.7 information is available. In the information he provided to the Board, there are pictures from two of his customers. One is close to Vesuvius, Virginia, where the turbine is located atop the Blue Ridge Mountains. That turbine was cleared by the National Parks Service for its viewshed from the Skyline Drive.
Mr. Rooker asked if there are any turbines installed in areas that resemble Albemarle’s condition - normal pastureland types of terrain. Mr. Hayes said he does not have any installed close by or in that exact setting.
Mr. Rooker indicated interested in the amount of power a turbine would generate. In this area, if someone were interested in generating some of their own power or selling power back to the grid, how would that compare with solar if the turbine were not on a hilltop? Also, why would anyone go in this direction compared to solar? Mr. Hayes said his company offers a wind study in two different ways. One is by reading the tree life around the property, which establishes the direction and wind speed in the area, and they also install anemometers over a two- to three-month period and take that data and extrapolate it over the course of the year. He emphasized that they will not install a wind turbine unless a minimum 12 mile per hour resource across the year can be established; his company also provides customers with analyses of their current electric bills and their anticipated savings. They are provided with options to reduce their electricity consumption bills through efficiencies. He said that if turbines were installed and did not perform well, it would hurt the overall installation of wind turbines. Currently, there are “wind schools” across the nation (James Madison University and Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. are close) that train people to properly site and install turbines to be effective for individual customers.
Mr. Rooker asked if Mr. Hayes also installs solar facilities. Mr. Hayes said his company does install solar, and in some situations a combination of both solar and wind is necessary to make it effective for consumers.
Mr. Hayes next showed a photo of an installation just off Skyline Drive in Rockbridge County. It is a 60-foot tall monopole installation with a Skystream 3.7 mounted on top. The base of the turbine is provided by a 6’x6’x3’ deep concrete cube. This turbine is located near The Homestead, and it is difficult to see. In this particular case, it is also 20 feet above the treetops.
Mr. Rooker said there is a wind turbine on a house off of Rio Road; he asked what type of turbine it is. Mr. Hayes said he is not familiar with that installation. There are many types of small turbines which typically produce between 200 and 400 watts on a monthly average. Overall, that would not overcome a person’s full electricity needs, unless they installed quite a few of them.
Mr. Boyd referred to the installation in Rockbridge County and asked the total cost of it. Mr. Hayes said that particular installation was $22,500.
Mr. Boyd asked if it will provide 100 percent of the home’s electrical needs. Mr. Hayes said it would provide just over 50 percent - in the first 26 days which was the first bill they could monitor it on, the turbine provided 700 kilowatts of power.
Mr. Dorrier asked if it has storage capacity. Mr. Hayes said for most of the turbines they install, they recommend that the customer connect it to the grid. That allows the grid to be used as “a monetary battery” instead of having hazmat batteries in the home and needing to replace them every five years, and being forced to have some sort of maintenance cycle. It is possible to merely run that through the meter backwards and put it back on the grid and cause a reduction of the overall electricity bill. Generally, in between five and 10 years the cost of a turbine can be paid off in its entirety and provide a percentage of free electricity for the owner.
Mr. Rooker asked if that depends on the amount of wind. Mr. Hayes said it depends entirely on the amount of wind, and most importantly, the siting.
Mr. Boyd asked if the $22,500 includes putting electricity back into the grid. He looked at installing a generator at one time, and it was very expensive to put in a connection so it did not back feed. Mr. Hayes said it can be viewed as expensive, but he is of the opinion that it is largely reduced by the 30 percent rebate by the Federal government. On top of that, a home generator is not capable of putting that energy back onto the grid and reducing the overall electricity bill and the cost of the overall unit. He said that over the 30-year average mortgage for the average four person family, $54,000 is spent during that time. Installing a turbine at a 60 percent value of full electricity would reduce the overall cost of that electricity in a 30-year term by $12,000 to $20,000.
Mr. Hayes next presented information on other turbine options with different features, such as having blades lying flat until the wind speed picks up. He then addressed the issue of noise generated from wind turbines which only make noise when the wind is blowing. Also, it is generally masked by whatever the tree life is around it; as the wind speeds increase, the noise coming through the trees increases as well. He said that the Skystream 3.7 model is one of the best performers in this regard, as it is possible to have a conversation while standing near one. He then offered to answer questions.
Mr. Loach asked if there is a separate course for the evaluation. He asked the cost of the taller installation such as the one depicted in the Park. Mr. Hayes responded that there was a $450 charge to get the man-lift to the site, and they were told they will not have to repeat that test. They are looking forward to using that data for other installations which are close by. They have two different evaluations – there is a $450 charge to do a site assessment based on tree life, and an $800 assessment to place an anemometer for two months and take that data. When they get to the property, it is analyzed to determine what type of wind turbine might cover all of the costs, and then the wind estimate is performed in two different fashions. The cost for that is included in the installation should they do one. They assess a charge if it is not.
Mr. Boyd said Mr. Graham had posted some charts earlier showing the wind circumstances in this area. Based on that information, does Mr. Hayes think it is conducive to this type of facility. Mr. Hayes said it would be much harder to make the larger wind turbines function. Most of the cut-in speeds for the smaller turbines are at 12 mph. That is the bare minimum available in Albemarle County. Some of those turbines are capable of producing more if a microclimate can be found – there are many microclimates available, in the mountains for instance. Also, any of the valleys that run up into the mountains create a “chimney” of wind. People close to rivers or streams frequently have a resource caused by the stream itself.
Mr. Dorrier asked what states are good wind producers. Mr. Hayes said there is a band from Michigan all the way down to Texas. In Virginia, and all the way up the Appalachian chain, there are some of the highest wind values available anywhere. They are 5.5 or 6.0 wind class, but they are on top of the ridges. A concern is that wind turbines do not interfere with any viewshed. Overall, small turbines hold the possibility of being outside of those viewsheds specifically something like the helix because it excels at collecting turbulent wind and does not necessarily need to be installed at 20 feet above treetops. Generally, they are installed at no higher than 32 feet off the ground from the base to the top of the unit.
Mr. Rooker said in an area like Albemarle, people have commented to him that solar is much more economical and feasible than a wind turbine. Mr. Hayes said the technology for both increases every day. Small wind turbines are typically slated now to work in wind zones of 2.0 and higher. A lot of work has been done to cause them to work better in lower wind environments. He said solar technologies are also increasing, and there are many types that excel in collecting light from many different directions to avoid things like a large solar array that needs to turn those panels 90 degrees for the sun to be effective.
Mr. Slutzky said it appears that staff and the Planning Commission have done a very thoughtful job of balancing competing interests. There is clearly some desire in the County to pursue the opportunity for wind power generation, and there is clearly some concerns about it also. If the Board is being asked today to provide feedback he has his own bias on the subject matter. He is strongly of the mind that alternative energy technologies should be pursued with appropriate haste. He is probably less concerned about placement on the ridges than the rest of the Board members. He believes accessing wind power is a priority. What staff and the Planning Commission have provided is a good framework that would allow citizens in the community to experiment with this emerging technology in a way that is well-managed. In general, his feedback would be to move forward with the way this has been proposed.
Mr. Rooker said based on the information the Board has now, he would be disposed to support Tier One by itself without either Tier Two or Tier Three. He said the Board spent a huge amount of time and effort to create the Cell Tower Ordinance which has been written up around the State as a model to be followed by other communities. What is being talked about is approving something that would bring large, tall structures of the kind that would not be approved in the form of a cell tower and allow them to be put up by-right throughout the County. He thinks the Board has an obligation to allow alternative forms of energy use to go forward, but he questions whether allowing these turbines in an area with little wind would be practical when compared to solar alternatives. He wonders if the Board would be encouraging people to invest in something that is marginal as opposed to something that is more likely to produce a positive return. These things work on mountaintops and they work in Texas – they are economical in offshore Virginia where 16 miles out there is no visual impairment. There is an area out there where it appears that high scale production could take place from wind farms. He suggests the Board be careful when creating a policy that would allow tall structures that may have noise issues to be installed throughout the County.
Ms. Marcia Joseph said that she, Mr. Graham, and Mr. Edgerton worked on this question together. The Planning Commission talked about exactly what Mr. Rooker just said. One of things was the microclimate. A lot of properties have wind bursts in one or more areas on their property. She has lost the roof on her barn a couple of times. In the rural areas there are areas that experience that sort of thing so it might be worth while to install a turbine. They also talked about the height of these structures in relation to cell towers. Since cell towers are installed among the trees, they discussed ways to juxtapose these things so they cannot be skylighted, etc. They concluded that supplemental regulations could be imposed just like the different tiers for cell towers. They looked at the existing cell tower ordinance because they do not want to undermine what is already on the books.
Mr. Rooker said cell towers are required to be sited in groves of trees and they cannot be skylighted. Wind turbines would need to be sited in open places not in trees, and if they were near trees they would need to be in a significant clear area above those trees. He asked how that visibility issue might be addressed. Ms. Joseph said some localities consider the size of the parcel itself and also the zoning district. If it were in a rural area district and it was a five-acre parcel a turbine could be located and not be visible.
Mr. Rooker said he thinks that is a great idea, but is not embodied at all in the tiered recom-mendations. Ms. Joseph said that is because they have not gotten to the details of the tiers. She said Mr. Graham told the Commission the Board wanted a joint meeting so all could discuss whether or not to go forward with this idea, or just step back.
Mr. Rooker said he has a different view of a turbine(s) in the middle of a farm where it was not significantly visible to surrounding properties and where it could not be heard by anyone, and creating a situation where someone on a two-acre tract of land put up a turbine that might be closer to his neighbor’s house than his own house, and was the tallest thing in an area where the Board would clearly not approve a cell tower. He is not concerned about wind turbines, but is troubled by establishing a policy that would
allow “coming out of the box.” He knows that the cell towers which were erected before adoption of the Cell Tower Ordinance are generally acknowledged by anyone driving by as a mistake.
Mr. Slutzky said Mr. Rooker is raising a number of interesting and relevant points. He asked if, under this approach, the owner of land in a designated growth area would be prevented from installation of a 32-foot turbine. Mr. Graham said that would be a Tier Two and it would require a waiver from the Planning Commission. He said they have not yet fleshed out guidelines that would accompany the ordinance. The Commission would need to decide whether the facility would impact the neighbors and then decide if they could justify granting a waiver.
Mr. Slutzky said he would like for the Planning Commission to move forward with all three tiers, and then take public comments. He said if the details are fleshed out, and a public hearing held, it might show that a lot of people are interested. He lives in the growth area, and would be very frustrated if he could not experiment with this technology particularly to take advantage of some of the current subsidies available through the Federal government. It is not entirely about economic viability, it is also about a moral commitment to try and reduce dependence on foreign oil, etc. There are other variables that come into the calculus of decision-making about installation of a turbine. He thinks the County should move forward and at least flesh out the rules for Tiers One and Two and hopefully Three, and then go through the public input process. At that point, a decision might be made not to go forward with any of it, but it would be a more informed decision than to just outright reject this option for growth area residents.
Mr. Rooker said nothing would prevent the County from having a Tier One and seeing how it worked before allowing wind turbines to be located on much smaller parcels in closer proximity to other areas.
Mr. Slutzky said the people who live in the growth area would not be able to do it if they have to wait.
Mr. Rooker commented that they would have to wait to see how things work.
Mr. Edgerton said he has a strong prejudice in favor of approval. What’s being proposed as the next step is to develop an ordinance that would allow for the Tier One on an administrative by-right basis in the rural areas where parcels are large and limiting that to what is already allowed in the rural areas for an accessory structure. The big question is whether it would be more of a visual impact to erect a 35-foot tall turbine on their farm or a 35-foot tall barn or shed, which would be classified as an accessory structure which according to the ordinance can be as close as six-feet to the property line. The drawing shown by Mr. Graham earlier showed that what is being proposed is even more conservative than that because the setback from the property line would have to be 55 feet for a turbine to accommodate a fall zone.
Mr. Edgerton said he thinks this is a cautious approach, far more cautious than he would like to see, but at the same time he thinks a lot of people may have a different opinion. He said there was a wind ordinance writing workshop held by the Shenandoah Valley Planning District Commission a couple of weeks ago. He went and it was fascinating. There was excitement about some of the larger commercial facilities. There are four different counties in Virginia that have written language into their ordinances allowing for the smaller private turbines and they did it in a tiered way. Being concerned about the impact of these turbines, they required special use permits or special exemptions for all applications. There have been few applications. Every county represented at the meeting who had done this said they wished they had not worried about the rural areas at all – that was a non-issue. And then, Mr. Hayes said he would not install a turbine unless it would actually produce some viable help.
Mr. Rooker said the Board cannot adopt an ordinance based on the responsibility of one provider.
Mr. Edgerton said even the cost of the small turbine is a big investment, and there are microclimate situations in the rural areas that would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. They would not make sense in certain areas unless someone just wanted a “lawn ornament”. He thinks that is the case of the one on Rio Road.
Ms. Thomas said she visited that property yesterday and the owner wants the turbine to produce power like the solar panel he has on the other side of his lawn. He asked her if the question the Board is debating is whether to allow the Planning Commission to proceed with a three-tier approach or whether to stop at one tier. She thinks the Board should go forward with the three tier approach. The community’s standards should be stated clearly in anything put together, and that includes considering impacts – visual, mountain, skyline, noise, light, and neighborhoods – in the forefront. She said the cell panels that are flush-mounted were first brought to the attention of the Board by a manufacturer after hearing the Board’s standards. She said cell towers are different because they are revenue producing poles and these would not be. If the Board’s standards were shared around the State, she thinks they would get some creative designs that fit the lower wind levels of the eastern United States. She would like for the County to be ready for that when it comes.
Mr. Rooker said he has no problem with taking this question forward and having public hearings to see what the public is interested in. He has a problem with allowing any kind of lighting at all. Due to the cost of these turbines, someone could pursue one as a way of co-location on a cell facility immediately or right after it is constructed. He can see a lot of support for that from cell operators, so the County needs to think carefully about allowing co-location of wireless facilities.
Mr. Slutzky said as an advocate of moving toward an ordinance, he agrees with Mr. Rooker about the lighting and co-location issues. He would prefer to have both of those options removed from what the Planning Commission considers. He has one point to share with the Commission. There is a lot of talk about economic viability, but for a lot of people generation of power through wind turbines and other alternative energy technologies is not about today’s economic yield on investment, but about a personal commitment to not be dependent on foreign oil. He suggested that the Commission not overwhelm its discussion with their own interpretation of aesthetics. When he looks out on the horizon and sees a cell tower, he sees a corporation making money; he sees economic self-interest so he does not see quite the same aesthetic experience as when he sees a wind turbine. To him, that turbine is a graceful depiction of somebody trying to solve an ecological problem. He thinks the aesthetics issue should be addressed, but he does not want it to be assumed by definition that any physical structure not placed there naturally is by definition unacceptable aesthetically. For some, it is actually a positive aesthetic experience.
Mr. Boyd said he has a different perspective. He is torn over this whole idea. He strongly supports personal property rights and allowing people to do with their property what they wish to do. However, on the other side he is scared that a neighbor will put one at their house so he would have to watch and listen to it everyday. He is not opposed to moving forward with this idea and taking public comments, but it is not something that is a high priority on his list. He knows the Community Development Department is understaffed so wonders where this item would be put in its Work Program.
Mr. Slutzky asked if there is room in the work plan for this item. Mr. Graham said staff actually started work on this idea last year. It already has a placeholder in the work plan, but there are many other things in that work plan that staff is not getting to at this time.
Mr. Boyd said he would not want this to hold up other work items.
Ms. Mallek asked if these turbines can be dropped in by helicopter, or do they require a road and heavy equipment to get the materials to the site. One of the biggest problems at The Highlands is the complete destruction of the environment to get towers in, although those towers are bigger than what is being discussed. Mr. Hayes responded that the large turbines require a road and massive amounts of concrete, but many of the smaller turbines have very small foundations. Nothing is used larger than a typical concrete truck can haul. The Synergy model can be installed in environments which do not require heavy lift cranes or helicopters.
Mr. Slutzky said he assumes that for installation of a non-commercial scale turbine in a location requiring a big truck, the cost factor of installation would be higher, so there would be a disincentive to locate them in places where that type of disturbance would need to take place. Mr. Hayes said that is true. Also, everything involved in that size turbine is entirely inside of what is being called Tier Three. There would be an opportunity for comments to be taken before that could happen. Mr. Graham said these turbines are typically placed close to the building they would serve so there is not a lot of energy loss. Trucks would be required to get the materials to that building site, and wires are typically run underground between the building and the turbine.
Mr. Slutzky said there seems to be a consensus of support that the Planning Commission and staff work on this proposal with the understanding that the Board will get more specificity to the process steps. He asked if any Board member objected to moving forward.
Mr. Rooker said public input should be taken so the Board can decide what to do from that point. In line with some of the other comments about lack of staff and cost, if the Board adopted a one-tier ordinance, it would require less ongoing work than a three-tier ordinance.
Ms. Joseph said she and Mr. Edgerton have been working on this with Mr. Graham because they felt it was important, and they did not want to put an additional burden on staff. They would be happy to continue working with him. They have done a lot of research and a lot of ordinances. From what they have heard today, language could be inserted into an ordinance they have been “toying” with.
Mr. Edgerton said he would be delighted to continue with this work. He said they contacted all of the counties that have implemented some language in their zoning ordinances to allow this use. He said Rockingham County is probably the more mature in this instance. They did not bring that to the Board at this time, wanting to get a read on the Board’s enthusiasm for the idea. He is sure they can come up with some draft language for discussion.
Mr. Rooker said he wants everyone to be mindful of the fact that if a tiered system is created there might be more ongoing administrative expense associated with it.
Mr. Boyd said he agrees with Mr. Rooker. He is also interested in getting public input.
Mr. Slutzky said he is uncomfortable denying the public the opportunity to participate in this. A lot of people in the community share his views that this is a priority of importance and will become more so in the near future. He is of a mind to go forward exploring the three tiers as proposed, take it to public hearing and then make decisions about how much further to go rather than cutting off two-thirds of the process now.
Mr. Rooker said he has no problem with the three-tiered approach for getting public comments. He is suggesting that there are reasons why it might end up with a single tier. He would have difficulty supporting a tier that allowed lighting or co-location of wireless facilities.
Ms. Thomas asked that lighting be “taken off the table” right now.
Ms. Slutzky asked if co-location should also be removed.
Ms. Thomas said the consultant that worked on the cell panel ordinance said that as cell panels become even more ubiquitous, each panel can only take a certain number of calls so it would end up with panels being on every building. She does not know how that fits in the rural area. Panels will also become smaller. She said Tier Three allows questions about whether that is reasonable or not and she would not take it off of the table the same way she would take lighting off of the table.
Mr. Dorrier asked how much electricity would be replaced and what would be the total effect of the turbines on the overall energy problem. He thinks the Board should explore that issue.
Mr. Slutzky asked if staff and the Planning Commission get the feeling there is consensus to move forward with the next step. Mr. Graham said he understands lighting is “off the table” and there should be no consideration of co-location for wireless facilities.
Ms. Thomas said she is not willing to take co-location “off the table.” She asked the thinking of the other Board members.
Mr. Rooker said it simplifies the matter. The ordinance could always be amended at a later time – he does not want to see wind turbines installed in order to have co-location.
Mr. Boyd said cell towers are allowed to go on existing structures now, so he asked if that would be stopped by this ordinance not addressing that issue.
Mr. Slutzky said there is consensus on the Board for removing lighting, but for the moment staff and the Planning Commission need to know the co-location issue needs to be addressed and the Board can make a decision about it later.
Mr. Edgerton said at that seminar he attended he asked several people about co-location. Most indicated that vibration would be an issue, and the cell antenna would have to be located below the turbine rotors. There was also some argument about whether that was an accurate statement. He said cell companies have not been jumping at the opportunity to co-locate.
Mr. Rooker said if it were taken “off the table” it would not really affect anything.
Mr. Edgerton said he thinks that is correct for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Slutzky asked Ms. Thomas if she would be okay pulling it off for now, and saying it will be attended to later, if at all.
Ms. Thomas said “yes.”
Mr. Slutzky thanked the Planning Commissioners, especially Ms. Joseph and Mr. Edgerton, for sorting this out and bringing this issue to the Board’s attention. He volunteered to help them in this effort.
Mr. Rooker said it might be wise to not just require that setbacks be met, but that a facility be located closer to the residence on which it was built than to the residence of a neighbor. Perhaps the requirement could be waived in the case wind was optimal in another spot and there were no objections from the neighbors. He said there is a setback requirement now for cell towers, but if there is an agreement from the neighbor that can be waived. He said there are a lot of neighborhoods in the rural areas with two-plus acre lots. He thinks people would be upset by having someone push one of these turbines close to their residence and more distant from the house being served.
Mr. Boyd said he does not think many understood his analogy earlier. He and Mr. Calvin Morris live in that type of situation just a couple of doors from each other on three-acre lots.
Ms. Linda Porterfield added that there was discussion by the Planning Commission that Tier One should not totally be by-right, i.e., there should be specific requirements for it to be by-right. Otherwise, it would be heard by the Commission, and at that time given the waivers necessary. Also, they want the application process for Tier One to be as simple as possible to help people interested in the technology get moving and keep the cost down as much as possible.
Mr. Slutzky asked if someone can install a turbine of 35 feet or below at this time, or is it treated as an accessory they have to get permission. Mr. Graham responded that currently the County would not grant a permit for a turbine.
Mr. Slutzky asked if the ones that exist in the growth area now are technically non-compliant. Mr. Graham said all that exist in the County now are non-compliant.
(Note. The Board recessed at 4:30 p.m. and reconvened at 4:36 p.m.
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