ROCKPORT – The city of Rockport is reviewing its wind energy ordinance after Aransas County proposed placing four 45-foot wind turbines with 12-foot-diameter blades at a county road-and-bridge facility in the city.
County officials say they will scrap plans to install the turbines because of cost, but the proposal still has prompted a review of the city ordinance over concerns that turbine placement isn’t well regulated.
“We are trying so hard to be a birding community, and I think that’s what really caught me off guard,” said City Councilwoman Adelaide Marlatt, who objected to the county’s plans at a recent council workshop.
She worried about the location’s proximity to a 2.6-acre lake at Memorial Park and to the waters at Rockport Country Club. Birds move back and forth between those areas, crossing the county property as they go, she said.
And while she’s concerned about turbine proliferation in a town trying to brand itself as a birding destination, she also wonders whether it’s appropriate to place turbines in residential zones, as the city ordinance currently allows.
“It takes some heavy-duty thinking to try to figure out what’s best for the city,” she said. “It’s not necessarily what you do today but the effect of what you do 10 years from now.”
Mayor C.J. Wax referred the matter to the city’s planning and zoning committee.
“I think it would be useful to examine the ordinance to see if it does require additional restrictions,” he said.
That review will include a look at wind energy ordinances from other cities.
In October 2009, Corpus Christi passed an ordinance allowing residential property owners to install some types of wind turbines if the lot meets certain size requirements and the turbines are under 55 feet tall.
Corpus Christi City Councilman Kevin Kieschnick said the biggest concerns the council encountered as the ordinance was being crafted were noise and fall radius, the area around a turbine that could be in danger in a collapse.
An initial version of the ordinance required there be no structures within two times the fall radius. The council decided that was overprotective.
“It’s not going to suddenly grow as it falls,” Kieschnick said.
David Newstead, president of the Coastal Bend Audubon Society, said the organization is not as worried about smaller turbine installations as it is with large industrial-scale wind farms.
An installation like the one proposed at the Aransas County property on Farm-to-Market Road 2165 could have a bird collision risk or cause some birds to avoid the area, “but it would be on a very small scale,” Newstead said.
Though the county hasn’t officially scrapped its plans, County Engineer David Vyoral sees no other option.
The turbines would have been bought with an $86,000 federal economic stimulus grant. Vyoral calculated they would provide $1,100 worth of electricity in a year.
“The fact that we’d be getting a grant to install them is still not in the county’s best interest if it’s going to cost more in maintenance than the average unit would provide,” Vyoral said.
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