Washington County property owners will be allowed to install wind energy generation systems on their land under an ordinance revision approved Tuesday by the Board of Commissioners.
But commissioners warned that the county’s townships could still place restrictions on wind energy systems and District 5 Commissioner Lisa Weik opposed the revision, calling wind turbine towers “visual blight.”
County Senior Planner Dennis O’Donnell said the wind energy ordinance resulted when a Denmark Township farmer sought to construct a 185-foot wind tower on his land.
“After months of study, the Planning Commission is recommending some changes to the ordinance,” O’Donnell said.
Among the changes are limiting wind energy generation systems to a property owner’s personal electrical needs and not allowing commercial sales of wind power; property owners must get a conditional use permit from the county; one tower on one parcel with a minimum lot size of 10 acres; tower heights of 100 to 199 feet depending on lot size and a 160-foot rotor draw.
O’Donnell said the county’s Planning Advisory Committee held an Aug. 23, 2011, public hearing on the ordinance, adding that May Township officials objected to the turbine height rules.
“I agree with May Township on this,” Weik said. “I’m not comfortable with the increase in tower size.”
But O’Donnell said tower size is important when a property owner considers a wind energy generating system.
“All technologies were considered. You need height here,” he said. “I think what it boils down to is that you need a specific height for wind turbines to be effective.”
Speaking during a public hearing on the ordinance, Denmark Township resident Joseph Moore said he was pleased with the ordinance language, but wants county officials to consider the affect of wind turbines on aesthetics of neighboring properties.
Weik said would like to see other alternative energy generation systems considered when the PAC studies future wind energy system requests.
“Our purpose is not to design the system,” said District 3 Commissioner Gary Kriesel. “This is an ordinance for wind turbines.”
“I’m not trying to design systems,” Weik replied. “I’m trying to find options. I object to tall towers. I’m just trying to find options other than tall towers.”
But Kriesel reminded the board that township officials will have a lot of say in wind turbine designs.
“It’s difficult, when you have five townships, to design a system that’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” he said. “This is just the foundation. Townships can be more restrictive.”
O’Donnell told commissioners there are strict standards for new wind turbines and turbines systems must be reviewed by the PAC and inspected by both building and electrical inspectors.
The board approved the wind energy ordinance on a 4-1 vote, with Weik opposing the resolution.
Two other resolutions that made changes the county’s development code standards on shoreline management and granting variances were passed on 5-0 votes. O’Donnell said the amendment language brings the two sections in line with recent state law and court rulings on the issues.