NORTON SHORES – City officials are preparing an ordinance that would allow residents and companies to operate wind turbines.
A handful of townships in Michigan have ordinances that specifically address turbines, but few cities have followed suit.
Officials in the city’s community development office are studying the issue as residents become interested in using alternative energy sources.
The climate in shoreline communities like Norton Shores, Muskegon and Grand Haven is ideal for turbines, officials said.
While states like Texas are leading the charge in wind energy production, Michigan has been slow to join the game, officials said.
A draft ordinance outlines how turbines would be regulated in Norton Shores. The city council reviewed the ordinance last week.
“Wind turbines will become more prevalent as their technology improves and as fuel prices increase,” Dick Maher, the city’s community development director, wrote in a memo to the city council. “It is the intent to effectively regulate (turbines) without discouraging their use.”
Right now, the city’s zoning books do not address the use of wind turbines. The city has what is called a “named-use zoning ordinance” that outlines things that are permitted uses. Because wind turbines are not named in the ordinance, they are currently not allowed.
The next step to possible enactment of an ordinance is a review by the planning commission this spring, followed by public hearings, Maher said.
He said residential turbines, which could be mounted on roofs or poles, could be 6 to 8 feet in diameter; turbines on so-called wind farms could be 60 to 80 feet in diameter.
Heights are being worked out, but TV antennae are allowed to be 70 feet tall.
Maher said the city wants to strike a balance where residential turbines would be high enough to be effective without posing a threat to neighbors if they topple.
Annoesjka Steinman, a Norton Shores city councilwoman, said she envisions a future where entire residential developments are powered by turbines.
In the short term, individual residential turbines could be used as supplemental energy sources.
“This is something that’s been on my radar for a long time,” Steinman said. “But everyone needs time to ask their questions. And at some point down the road, I think it will click and we’ll all be on the same page.”
Steinman said alternatives like wind turbines or solar energy are important to explore.
“We don’t have to build another coal-fired power plant in our neighborhood, or even a nuclear plant, when there are cleaner sources available,” she said.
During last week’s work session, city council members said they are not opposed to the ordinance, but changes are expected. Setback requirements, heights and sizes will be addressed.
Meanwhile, officials are looking at creating an “overlay district” where “wind energy facilities” – or “wind farms” – could operate.
According to the draft ordinance, such facilities would need a special-use permit and operate on at least 20 acres of land.
Meanwhile, planning commissioners from Muskegon County communities will hear a presentation next month on wind turbines, Steinman said.
The presentation is not open to the public, but officials say planners will learn about the technology and how it could be used in West Michigan.
Specifically, the group will learn about how much sound turbines make, how they work and their effects on wildlife.
by Chad D. Lerch
30 March 2008
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