Township Committee officials unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday that will allow the use of windmills to generate renewable power in environmentally safe ways in specific regions of the township.
The ordinance permits small windmill systems to be developed on specified tracts of land – in the township’s agricultural, mountain and corporate development zones, as well as in the cultural landscape zone, which spans a portion of the Duke Estate – of at least 10 acres. The goal is to establish a renewable energy source for the township that will reduce greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.
The minimum 10-acre lot size prevents the windmills from being built in residential neighborhoods, said Committeeman Paul Drake, who initiated the plan. However, the 10-acre minimum, which drew opposition by some residents during Wednesday’s public hearing, is a “bulk standard” that the Planning Board can consider allowing a variance for smaller lots if it makes sense, he said.
“Potential interested property owners can always reach out to the Planning Department and discuss the logistics of their property before spending any money on design professionals,” Drake explained to residents during Wednesday’s meeting.
The windmill systems would be less than 100 kilowatts, a maximum of 100 feet high and placed away from property lines at a minimum distance of about one-and-a-half times the height of the windmill.
The ordinance also calls for anyone wanting to build the windmill to appear before the township’s Planning Board with photo simulations, showing how the systems would look on landscapes so the placement is viewed in the context of the entire viewshed – an area of land, water and other environmental elements that is visible from a fixed vantage point – to determine if it is compatible, Drake said.
“We opened up the pool through the ordinance since right now there are no standards to allow them at all on any property in Hillsborough,” Drake said. “This ordinance changes that and creates the opportunity for small-wind energy systems to get a start in Hillsborough.”
In November, municipal officials tabled the introduction of the ordinance after a member of the Sourland Mountain Planning Council voiced concerns about the impact of the windmills on some endangered species and plants in the region. While Steve Bales, also a township resident, is a proponent of renewable energy, he asked Township Committee members to amend the language of the ordinance to reflect better ways to preserve the Sourland Mountain region.
The revised ordinance now indicates a Wildlife Habitat Assessment report must be prepared by the applicant, specifically addressing wildlife habitat affected by the installation of a windmill. The report also will address the Sourland Mountain Special Resource Area, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Landscape Project and impacts to habitats that indicate the presence of threatened or endangered species. Efforts to reduce or minimize the impacts would be enforced, according to the revised ordinance.
“We applaud the Hillsborough Township Committee for your proactive stance and the need to look for alternative energy sources,” said Peg Van Patton, a trustee of the Sourland Mountain Planning Council during Wednesday’s meeting.
Some township residents turned out to Wednesday’s meeting to voice concerns and urge municipal officials to make further changes to the ordinance to meet those needs. Kathryn Wedener, whose Beekman Lane property sits on 3 acres, asked the Township Committee if a variance would be granted by the Planning Board to build a windmill on her property. She said, “I want to look into alternatives … I’m starting at ground zero.”
Mayor Anthony Ferrera explained the Panning Board would be looking at each application on a “case-by-case” basis.
Debe Besold, a resident who owns Tangarie Energy Service Company, was concerned the ordinance would not allow a Vertical Axis Wind Turbine or VAWT style wind system, which produces at least 50 percent more electricity annually than wind-propeller turbines. Drake said the design would be permitted under the adopted ordinance.
However, Besold continued to urge the Township Committee to hold off on passing the ordinance until she could sit down and further discuss it with municipal officials. She said the 10-acre minimum would “disqualify a large amount of people” wanting to build the systems.
Drake explained this was his last night sitting on the Township Committee because his term is ending and he wanted to see the ordinance passed after months of working hard on it. The Township Committee “can always consider appropriate modifications to the ordinance to further encourage them (windmill systems),” he said.
“I really wish we (Besold and her husband) can sit down with the powers that be before something concrete is passed,” Besold said.
Township Attorney Albert Cruz said: “My suggestion is to put something in writing and give it to the township planner (Bob Ringelheim) to see if the ordinance should be amended.”
Besold’s husband, John, then said: “This ordinance is a bad ordinance and ought not to be passed tonight. It’s definitely an exclusive club – for people who own 10 acres.”
Drake said prior to the ordinance windmills would not be allowed in Hillsborough without a variance because no ordinance ever was created. This would open the door to the concept, he said.
According to the township’s planning department, residents who had wanted to build the system on their properties – prior to the ordinance being approved – would have had to go before the Board of Adjustment for approval. Prior, without the ordinance in place, there was no provision to allow windmills, so interested residents would have needed variance approval.
“We anticipate that technology improvements and advancements in design will continue to evolve as the world market recognizes the value of renewable energy,” Drake said. “The ordinance is broad enough to allow new innovations in technology to fall within the spectrum of acceptability.”
Committeemam Carl Suraci further assured the public if modifications were needed in the future, the Township Committeee could revise the ordinance.
“This can always be revisited,” Suraci said.
Drake said he anticipates discussing the the renewable energy topic further after being appointed to the new Somerset County Energy Council. Drake will be sworn in Jan. 4 to his new posiiton at the Somerset County Freeholders’ annual reorganization meeting.
By Pamela Sroka-Holzmann
27 December 2007
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