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Wind turbine legislation still floating in breeze

Questions still loom regarding where and what kind of wind turbines may be erected within North Ridgeville’s city limits, as efforts continue for developing wind energy system regulations.

The Building and Lands Committee met Aug. 22 to review the proposed addition of a chapter to the city’s codified ordinances. City officials, with the help of outside energy experts, have been discussing the matter since an Emerald Street resident erected a backyard monopole wind turbine in June.

At that time, the unit was permitted under building codes as an accessory structure for residential use. There were neither city ordinances prohibiting its construction nor regulations or standards for its operation. The city consequently instituted a temporary moratorium for up to 270 days that put on hold any wind turbine construction. Meanwhile, city officials continue to hash out ways to regulate that alternative form of energy.

The legislation’s current draft defines every aspect of a wind energy system, the regulation and permitting process, design, construction and performance standards, insurance, maintenance and safety, decommissioning and enforcement procedures. Officials determined what constitutes a small-, medium- or large-sized wind turbine. A small wind turbine will be equipment with a capacity of less than 20 kilowatts; the range for a medium turbine will be 20 kW up to 600 kW; and a large turbine’s capacity is any amount above 600kW.

“Let’s face it,” Law Director Andrew Crites said, “that’s what this ordinance is going to be about. How big can a turbine be that somebody wants to put in their backyard?”

John Butkowski, a local engineer and energy consultant, questioned whether legislation should mention lot acreage. If someone has many acres, he or she could put up a very large turbine, he said.

Crites responded that as long as such a scenario met the city’s setback requirements and noise decibel regulations, he wouldn’t foresee a problem.

“If you’ve got 100 acres in a residential area, what do we care?” Crites asked, after which Butkowski said large turbines could have a negative effect on property values and could create power surges or disruptions to the power grid.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Nancy Buescher pointed out Avon does not allow wind turbines in residential areas, saying “That’s something to think about.”

The draft ordinance discussed monopole and lattice towers. Officials said they felt monopole towers would be more aesthetically pleasing than lattice towers. Similar city ordinances only allow the monopole design.

Building and Lands Committee Chairman Bob Olesen questioned whether the city should just eliminate lattice towers from the draft all together since kids can climb them.

“Are you looking to regulate the productive introduction of alternative sources of energy … so it’s done in an appropriate manner, or do you want to completely ban them?” Crites asked. “You’re going to get a lot closer to banning them, because when you say monopole-only, you’re going to greatly reduce the accessibility of it because it will cost a lot more.”

Councilwoman at Large Bernadine Butkowski (wife of consultant John Butkowski) said anyone at the meeting could find a wind turbine in their neighbor’s backyard if the legislation is not properly written.

“Just remember when you’re writing this thing,” she said, “you may be living next door to it. Do you want to drive past the ugly thing? Remember, it’s your fault that it’s there.”

John Butkowski noted the draft doesn’t take into account energy storage, something he believes is necessary, especially for safety reasons. Lead acid batteries, the most common type, emit hydrogen gas and are potentially explosive, he said. Lithium ion batteries pack more power into less space, which could also pose a danger if not properly installed and maintained, he alleged.

Buescher agreed it needs to be addressed in the legislation.

“This is why we want to be as specific as possible and not leave anything up to interpretation,” she said.

There are currently no laws that specifically mention energy storage, officials said, because it is all new technology. The National Electric Code doesn’t deal with energy storage systems, Chief Building Inspector Guy Fursdon said.

Safety was discussed, and officials said legislation needs to include requirements that turbines have adequate braking systems in the event of a malfunction or high winds. It was also decided wind turbines will need to be in-use on a property; if they have not produced electricity for a period of six months, they will need to be taken down.

The legislation will be revised, and Buescher said the Building and Lands Committee needs to meet at least one more time to review it. Any ordinance would then require City Council’s approval. Council was on recess during August and will meet in regular session at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6.