SEI, the school for renewable energy and sustainable housing technology, won approval June 4 from the Board of County Commissioners for its bid to erect a 106-foot-high tower on its year-old Paonia campus. The tower will support an electricity generating turbine with blades spanning 12 feet to be used for class instruction and to produce power for the school’s use.
The BoCC, sitting with commission chair Jan McCracken absent, voted 2-0 in favor of the schools proposal after hearing comments from neighbors both in support and opposition of the plan.
Previously, on May 24, the Delta County Planning Commission had heard the school’s request and, following a lengthy discussion, approved it on a split vote.
Two of six county planning commission members didn’t think the school’s idea is a good one and voted against it.
Roger Bentley and Don Vander Laan said the county needs to do more research and develop a policy dealing with the high towers and the whirling rotors atop them.
The wind-powered generators use a renewable energy source to create electricity. But the devices have environmental impacts. They create more than electricity – they create hazards from falling if not installed properly, noise from their rotors and guy wires, they can be a hazard to birds including highly valued species such as bald eagles, and they create viewshed pollution.
A neighbor of the school, Riley Dunn, was concerned about just that – viewshed pollution caused by the environmentally friendly wind turbine machine.
Dunn said that he bought his property in Paonia specifically for its view, and SEI’s 106-foot-high tower will be right in the middle of that view.
The tower will harm his property values and decrease his ability to use the property as a seasonal rental in the future, Dunn said.
“The visual issue is very important to me,” Dunn told the BoCC on June 4. The device will be “directly in my view of the mountain.”
Installation of the generator “is not a public good,” Dunn said. “They (SEI) are a private corporation.” It isn’t right to allow the school to adversely impact others who have already invested in their property, he said.
Other neighbors supported the school’s plans. Neighbor Amy Hayutin wrote, “When I look toward Lamborn and see SRI’s wind generator and solar panels I will feel proud to be part of a community that harnesses and utilizes what nature freely gives.”
Neighbors Greg and Addie Cranson wrote to the BoCC about the wind generator installed on their own property saying, “The generator is a good looking piece of equipment. We have had no negative responses towards it.”
Dunn had previously suggested as a compromise that the tower be fully raised only during times when the school is conducting classes in its use, and that it be lowered at other times. The school rejected that proposal because it plans to generate up to 2.5 kilowatts per hour of electricity from the unit that will be used by the campus year round.
The Upper North Fork APC had recommended approval of the school’s plan finding the visual impacts would be “minimal.”
Power and Noise
Carbondale planning consultant Bob Schultz, speaking to the planning commission, compared the wind turbine with another one that is already in use at the Trading Post, which he said is located about two miles from the school’s location on Mathews Lane.
Noise created by the unit would be governed by the same state law that regulated noise from Gunnison Energy Corporations’ natural gas compressor station north of Cedaredge.
According to the Upper North Fork APC’s report, “Noise levels at the generating unit are expected to be a maximum of 55 dbA based on measurements obtained from (other) units in operation, including the unit north of Paonia. This is believed to be well below any existing state or county thresholds for (noise) mitigation.”
The Cransons wrote, “The wind generator… made no noise disturbance.”
Dunn presented the BoCC with data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showing there is not sufficient wind (12 m.p.h. average) in this area to drive the wind generating units and make them efficient.
Justine Sanchez, who works with the school, said the unit will generate enough electricity to power two houses a month (400 kilowatts) and that average winds in the area of 11.6 m.p.h. will be sufficient.
Schultz said the school “has a high level of confidence in the unit and (we) believe it will work.”
Policy and Regulation
According to county planner Dave Rice, commercial application of the wind turbines such as SEI’s proposal must go through the county’s specific development process. But he told the planning commission that the BoCC earlier that week decided that residential installations of the machines do not have to get specific development approval from the county.
Dunn joined planning commission members Bentley and Vander Laan in questioning the county’s policy on the generators.
“How do you decide where to put these things,” Dunn asked at the planning commission meeting. He said that allowing the tower and generator to be installed was a “de facto zoning. “How do you keep from ending up with a wind farm?” he asked.
Vander Laan thought the school’s proposal should be tabled until the county could look at the regulation issue in more detail.
Bentley said, “I think the county should be proactive on the regulation issue before they get out of control.”
Dorothy Dunn asked the BoCC how they would stop a wind farm from developing. “Regulations on more than one (at a location) should be looked at,” she said.
She said the county needs some standards in place or else disputes among neighbors will arise from residential installations, which aren’t currently regulated.
According to planner Rice, the county’s specific development regulations govern towers over 40 feet in height, but that rule applies principally to HAM radio towers.
By Hank Lohmeyer
27 June 2007
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