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Placement of wind turbines heats up discussion at P&Z  

KINGMAN – Discussion and possible action on a North Carolina company’s plans for a new hospital in Kingman were tabled, while wind took over the discussion at the City Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday.

P&Z staff recommended tabling consideration of MedCath, Inc.’s request to rezone 31.32 acres in the Kingman Crossing area until the company submits more detailed plans for water and sewer infrastructure.

P&Z staff said they will continue to meet with the applicant to work toward compliance with the various requirements for the rezoning request.

Jay Hornung, MedCath’s vice president of design and construction, said the company is “very excited about the project and very excited about the community.”

The most heated topic of the night turned out to be a request from applicant Scott Travis to amend the Kingman Zoning Ordinance governing the placement of wind turbines in residential districts. Turbines are used as alternative energy sources that generally must be taller than 43 feet to effectively harness the wind power necessary to bank energy for a household. Current zoning language does not specifically mention wind turbines, but it does limit accessory structures to 35 feet in R-1 and R-MH areas, and to 15 feet in R-2 areas, according to Sec. 3.200 and Sec. 4.340, respectively.

Travis, owner of Catchin’ Wind Windpower, requested the amendment to allow such structures on residential lots over a half-acre in size within the city limits. He said a condition also may be included to require placement of the turbine on the lot such that any tower collapse would result in the tower falling within the owner’s property only.

Commissioner Dave Adams immediately voiced concerns over the noise generated by such energy-harnessing machines, particularly within densely populated areas inside city limits. Travis explained that “the noise you hear with the wind blowing through the trees when the wind is really kicking up is actually louder than the turbine.”

Another issue for the commission was the size of the lots on which wind turbines could be placed. Commissioner Matt Ladendecker said, “I can’t imagine something like this being on anything less than an acre or two or three. If one neighbor got [a turbine], I can’t imagine another neighbor on a half-acre lot being okay with that.”

Travis’ presentation included information about the banking of excess energy by the residential user. Commissioner Jim Cave said this banking would create a commercial venture for the owner of the wind turbine – that an owner could sell his excess energy to the power company for resale to other power customers.

Essentially, Travis explained, the energy that is captured by the turbine is sent into the grid system for the owner’s use only. Any energy the owner does not immediately use is banked by the power company for future use by that owner. In this way, the owner of a turbine may have a “zero” power bill for one or more months due to the build-up of his wind energy in the grid bank. Travis said the Arizona Corporation Commission is currently working with companies like UniSource to address this issue.

Public response

Commissioners then opened the debate to public comment, which was widespread. “We have an opportunity here to change, to evolve into a future,” said Donna Crouse, a Realtor and Kingman resident. “We all agree that the technology is what Arizona needs.”

Lloyd Peterson, a member of Residents Against Irresponsible Development, worried about the commercial resale issue. “I smell the power companies behind this one. I think there might be a refund program on the heels of this. It’s a commercial undertaking here.” He continued, saying, “We’ve got to do something [about seeking alternative energy], but it can’t be at the sacrifice of our residential neighborhoods.”

Travis took the floor again, firing back, “It’s okay that we do things to other people, but we can’t have a tower blocking our view?” Travis referred to pollution caused by coal plants and other energy facilities and the potential harms of such pollution to people far outside city boundaries.

This idea is generally referred to as the “NIMBY” defense – the belief that something like a power plant is necessary, but “not in my backyard.” Travis explained that his plan would be to keep power rebates out of the issue, instead opting for metering by the power companies. Metering would keep track of the banked energy for each user. Power rebates would allow the power company to take all of the excess energy out of the user’s bank, use that energy to provide power to other customers, and then issue rebates for future power use by the turbine owner.

Kingman resident Judith Porter asked if Travis’ company has studied how the blades of a wind turbine might affect bird populations, and whether the machinery may conflict with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Travis relayed research that bird kill is less likely to occur with wind turbines than with automobiles. A 2001 report by the National Wind Coordinating Committee states that “avian collision mortality associated with windplants is much lower than other sources of collision mortality in the United States. … The current levels of mortality caused by windplants do not appear to be causing any significant population impacts.”

Although mainly focused on large scale, commercial wind turbines, the NWCC found that between 10,000 and 40,000 bird deaths are caused by turbines each year, compared to between 60 million and 80 million deaths from automobiles.

Commissioner Mike Schoeff voiced concerns that the towers would obstruct views of the mountains and sky. He said that he lives in an area with underground utilities, and he’d “hate to see” these turbines outside his windows.

“I think you’re infringing on people’s rights,” Schoeff said.

Commission Chair Dorian Trahan commented, “I personally feel that the ordinance doesn’t need to be changed at this point,” and she suggested that property owners seek a conditional use permit if they desire a wind turbine on their land.

A CUP requires the property owner to seek approval from all neighbors within 150 feet of his or her property boundaries.

The commissioners voted unanimously to deny Travis’ request for amendment to the ordinance.

Travis was disappointed by the commission’s response, stating that wind power is coming to the Northern Arizona area, and he wanted Kingman to “get on the map” ahead of other communities.

Andraya Whitney
Miner Staff Writer

The Kingman Daily Miner

11 October 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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