FARMINGTON— Planning Board members and a few members of the public were on hand for a presentation by an official from the N.H. Office of Energy and Planning about small wind turbine systems.
The presentation came after talks into creating a town ordinance regarding the systems brought up many questions among board members and residents alike, according to Planning Board Chairman Paul Parker.
Parker said that for several years now, the Planning Board has worked to adopt a local ordinance for the town regarding wind turbines and small wind energy systems. If a community does not have one of these ordinances, he said, the state takes over, making the process of building a small wind turbine in town more difficult.
“If we adopt a local ordinance and then answer the community’s questions, it makes it a lot easier for someone here to put up (a wind turbine),” Parker said recently.
The presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, given by energy policy analyst Eric Steltzer, aimed to answer those questions.
According to Steltzer, while there are not many wind resources in Farmington and other towns in the area, there may still be an interest among residents in installing small, residential wind turbines which could help offset energy costs for a family.
A residential wind turbine typically produces between one and 10 kilowatts of energy, Steltzer said.
And while these turbines are small compared to some others used for industrial purposes, Steltzer said that residents may still have concerns with the installation of them in the town – from concerns about noise level to worries about a turbine disrupting a view from a home.
While current state regulations do address these concerns, Steltzer said that a town ordinance would be able to better address concerns specifically appropriate for the town.
Steltzer also presented those in attendance with information on current regulations on small scale wind turbines and showed them how the regulations could change with a town ordinance in place.
Because the town does not currently have a town ordinance regarding turbines, any projects proposed in town would have to follow the state statute for reviewing wind energy projects.
According to Steltzer, this statute, HB310, was created in 2008 in an effort to streamline the process of applying for and installing a small scale wind energy system and to set up a process for communities to regulate the systems.
According to the statute, zoning ordinances must not unreasonably limit renewable energy projects. A town could unreasonably limit such projects, according to the statute, if they require that turbines follow generic height ordinances stating that no structure in town can be taller than 35 feet, if the setback requirement for turbines is greater than 150 percent of the system’s height, and if the sound requirements are less than 55 decibels, meaning that a town cannot require a system to make less noise than that level.
The state statute also requires that any proposed wind energy project by reviewed by the town building inspector and that all abutters to the project be notified. After abutter notification, Steltzer said, towns are required to leave 30 days for public comment, although the comments can be in written form and towns are not required to hold a public hearing.
Some Planning Board members said they thought this statute was too complicated and costly for residents who want to put up a small turbine on their property.
Board Vice-Chair David Kestner said he thought the state regulations that the town has to follow until they have their own ordinance could discourage a resident who wants to put up a small system on their property, something that is opposite of the statute’s original intentions of promoting renewable energy.
“That doesn’t seem to be very cost-effective for the small guy,” Kestner said of the current review process. “How do we help promote the small scale wind turbines?”
According to the town’s director of planning, Kathy Menici, there would be some costs associated with the state requirements for a review process, but that she was not sure if these costs would go down at all with a town ordinance in place.
Menici said that sending certified mail to abutters costs approximately $5.84 per abutter, and that the most abutters a property is likely to have is about five or six. There is also an abutter notification fee that could also be applied to this review process. The board could also choose to charge an application fee, Menici said.
Selectman Charlie King asked if there was a way to lower the restrictions on wind turbines under 1 kilowatt, and make a town ordinance that states that such small scale systems can be approved without the long review process.
Steltzer said he was not sure if that was possible and that he had not heard of any other towns that have done so.
“I don’t know of any community out there in New Hampshire that has automatically just given an OK to any wind facility under 5 kilowatts,” Steltzer said. “But if you wanted to simplify that review process I believe you could.”
Menici, however, disagreed, and said a town can only stray from state regulations to a certain point in their ordinances.
“The state statute doesn’t set a minimum limit ¿ there isn’t anything that says (these regulations) apply to wind turbines in this range, with a bottom limit,” Menici said. “I think that because it’s a state statute, the board doesn’t have the authority to waive that. You can make requirements more stringent, but can’t have requirements that relax state law.”
Still, Steltzer said there are ways the town could change the way they deal with wind energy project applications to make the process better fit the town.
For example, Steltzer said while it is not required, the town could hold public hearings on all wind projects. The town could also determine that the review process for wind turbines is better suited for the Planning Board, as opposed to only the building inspector. A town ordinance could also change the height and setback requirements to better fit the town’s properties.
Planning Board members made no decisions on a town ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting, but said they will continue to discuss the creation of one.