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Positive spin for wind turbine in Hollis; not so elsewhere

HB310 would set limits on how far a local government could go in regulating renewable energy systems like windmills. The law would ban local boards from putting “unreasonable limits or hindrances” on their installation, such as vague height limits or excessive setback requirements.

HOLLIS – It’s a nice change to see the electricity meter spin the wrong way.

On windy days, that’s exactly what Hollis resident Carroll Spaulding’s meter does, thanks to the 50-foot, freestanding wind turbine next to his Bell Lane home.

Spaulding and his neighbor, Selectman Mark LeDoux, each installed one of the turbines, which are just modern-looking windmills, to save some money and do their part to help the environment by pumping some energy back onto the grid.

If you have the money, installing a wind turbine is relatively easy to do in Hollis, but that’s not necessarily so in some surrounding towns.

Hollis considers the towers an accessory structure, which are allowed in residential zones, according to building and zoning coordinator Debbie Adams. All that is required is a building permit.

Once he had that, Spaulding, a retired dairy farmer, and some helpers gathered Friday and dug a 6-foot hole, filled it with seven yards of concrete, assembled the tower sections and hauled it upright with a small tractor.

It was a calm day, but by Sunday, it was spinning in the breeze and Spaulding watched his electric meter.

“A gust of wind and the meter would spin around backward. So that made me happy,” he said. “It’s fun to see the meter going the other way.”

The whole system, made by an Arizona company Skystream Energy, costs about $15,000, LeDoux said, but Hollis gives residents with a renewable energy system a tax break in the form a lowered home valuation.

The tower should generate about 400 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month. Spaulding uses an average of 300-350 kWh, he said, so Public Service of New Hampshire will give him energy credits toward those months when he goes over. But he’s not stopping there.

He bought two small electric heaters he hopes to use for free when it’s not cold enough to use his furnace or wood stove. And he envisions a day when someone else living there could use the turbine to power his or her car.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Spaulding said.

It may be, but it’s not always easy.

An Amherst man is suing the town after the zoning board of adjustment denied his appeal to erect three, 110-foot turbines. Norm Hebert claims the town’s zoning ordinance makes no mention of windmills and that they should be regulated under the same rules as farm silos and ham radio towers.

The town planning director, Charles Tiedemann, denied the building-permit application for the towers on the grounds that they exceeded the permitted height in a rural residential district.

It’s much the same story in Milford, although there haven’t been any requests to erect a wind turbine yet, according to planner Sarah Marchant.

Kevin Lynch, Milford’s zoning administrator and building inspector, said windmills aren’t covered in the zoning rules, but he considers them a structure that must be less than the 35-foot height maximum in residential zones and 40-foot maximum in commercial and industrial zones.

A higher structure requires a special exception from the ZBA, he said.

Marchant said the planning board considered asking voters to amend the zoning ordinance at Town Meeting to include a wind energy overlay district, where the towers would be allowed.

But the amendment was based on a bill currently in the legislative process, she said, so the planning board decided to wait to see the bill’s fate.

HB310 would set limits on how far a local government could go in regulating renewable energy systems like windmills. The law would ban local boards from putting “unreasonable limits or hindrances” on their installation, such as vague height limits or excessive setback requirements.

The bill was referred to an interim study committee and will be taken up again during the legislature’s next session, according to the state’s General Court Web site.

By Joseph G. Cote
Telegraph Staff

Nashua Telegraph

21 December 2007