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Bill focuses on wind turbine feasibility

The Baltimore County Council passed a bill Monday night to change zoning regulations to allow windspeed indicators in rural conservation zones.

The bill allows the small devices to be erected on poles up to 100 feet high and remain in place for up to one year. The instruments, which typically consist of three small cups spinning on an axle, can be used to determine wind speed in areas being considered for wind turbine construction.

The bill comes after a wind turbine pilot measure was withdrawn in August.

County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire (R-3rd) said the pilot measure was premature.

Known as the Small Wind Energy System Pilot Program, the measure would have delineated regulations for small wind systems for commercial agricultural and institutional uses and in manufacturing zones. The program would have been in effect for five years and allow wind turbines up to 80 feet high.

“The pilot bill was much more than a pilot bill. That was a misnomer. I think you have to look before you leap,” McIntire said.

He added that before turbines are allowed, “you have to find out if you have enough wind and if the amount of wind you have can produce a reasonable amount of electricity. This isn’t backing off. It’s proceeding in a logical and methodical manner.”

McIntire added, “People got the idea that I was against [turbines]. I just wanted to make sure they were beneficial and practical. We need to have two things, the amount of wind and what the technology produces before writing legislation in further detail.”

Baltimore County has been laying the groundwork for wind turbines for a few years.

County Councilman Vincent Gardina (D-5th) introduced a bill in 2008 requesting that the county planning department fashion legislation on zoning changes allowing wind turbines for residential use.

The planning board drafted a report on its recommendations, which were presented at a public hearing in January.

The board’s recommendations were for residential wind energy systems not exceeding 60 feet tall on a minimum one-acre lot. Recommendations included that towers not be lit unless in areas where lighting is required by the FAA. In addition, turbines must be finished with non-reflective surfaces and cannot produce “significant shadow flicker” on adjacent buildings or properties.

In August the wind turbine bill was withdrawn following opposition by residents concerned about property values, aesthetics, noise and lack of public input.

The planning board formed a committee to further study zoning regulations and community impacts.

As the call for more environmentally friendly energy continues, localities are grappling with the pros and cons of alternative energy sources.

In western Maryland Constellation Energy is constructing a wind farm in Garret County. Concerns remain about the effect of large wind turbines on birds and bats. The Constellation turbines are to be more than 400 feet tall. Wind turbines are also being considered for construction off the coast of Ocean City.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory studied the viability of wind turbines for utility-scale production. The wind maps, online at windpoweringamerica.gov, show wind speed estimates at 50 meters above ground.

“Maryland has wind resources consistent with utility-scale production,” according to the department’s conclusions. “Several areas of the state are estimated to have good-to-excellent wind resource. These are the barrier islands along the Atlantic coast, the southeastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, and ridge crests in the western part of the state, west of Cumberland.”

Federal plans call for measuring wind speeds at 30 meters for “identifying small wind turbine opportunities.”

The Maryland Energy Administration offers a program that loans anemometers to property owners.