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Winds of change

LACONIA – While recognizing that the appeal is somewhat limited due to the availability of the energy source, the City Council on Monday moved forward with an ordinance that would permit “small wind energy systems” for personal use.

While it delayed a final vote until some potential issues were clarified – the council had no other major concerns with the ordinance which is line with state law that promotes wind energy by prohibiting communities from excessively regulating it.

Should it approve the ordinance, Laconia would be one of about 20 communities that have adopted the state law since it went into effect in July 2009, said City Planner Shanna Saunders. The law prevents communities from making energy systems too short, too quiet or have too big of a setback, according to a memo from Saunders to the council.

Additionally, a community cannot prohibit small wind energy systems from all zones nor can it set structural/electrical standards that exceed state, federal or international codes.

Laconia’s ordinance would allow a maximum height of 35 feet above trees, but not taller than 150 feet from the base to the top of the blade at its highest point. The maximum sound that a small wind energy system could generate would be 60 decibels, which is about as quiet as the quietest office, said Assistant Planner Seth Creighton, but above a whisper which is 30 decibels. Creighton said people in the wind energy business “compare it to a refrigerator hum.”

“I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of them in Laconia,” Creighton said of the small wind energy systems, noting that Laconia has a “very poor” wind rating based on a survey of wind energy throughout the state. The best winds, he added, are to the north of the Lakes Region.

Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman asked if there were special aviation restrictions regulating the construction of wind energy systems and Creighton replied that the Federal Aviation Administration had that power. Lipman nonetheless asked that Creighton check with the Laconia Municipal Airport and Lakes Region General Hospital – the latter has a landing area for a medical helicopter – for their input.

Ward 2 Councilor Matt Lahey asked whether the 120-foot setback zone that the ordinance proposed was calculated on the proximity to a property line or to a structure and Saunders replied that the language allowed the broadest reading to allow the maximum setback.

Saunders said small wind energy systems would be permitted in all zones except Downtown Riverfront, Business Central, and Business/Central Industrial until an architectural consultant hired by the city just on Monday developed conditional use permit criteria to allow the wind energy systems while preserving the characters of the neighborhoods they are built in.

Energy use must be for on-site use only and small wind energy systems – if any are built in Laconia – would be regulated by building permit, not by the Planning Board.