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Ordinance proposal would regulate wind energy systems

A draft ordinance to establishing regulations for alternative energy systems was proposed at the Jan. 19 Lyon County Commission meeting and will now be considered at a future public hearing for possible final action.

Building Department Director Nick Malarchik said the draft was a result of inquiries to the county about installing wind energy systems. He said state law doesn’t allow a governing body to prohibit or place unreasonable restrictions on construction of alternative energy systems, but statues do allow local regulations regarding height, noise levels and other safety considerations.

In addition, Malarchik noted the National Electric Code, which Lyon County has adopted, provides regulations on solar systems, so he didn’t focus on those; and the draft was written with a general title so other forms of alternative energy could be added in the future if needed.

Malarchik indicated he had visited all six community advisory boards and had made presentations to the Lyon County Planning Commission, which recommended approval last month. He said input from those presentations had been incorporated into the draft.

Malarchik said the draft ordinance includes sections for private-use systems on residential and commercial properties, and for commercial systems, those intended to generate electrical power to sell.

He said there had been comments that the 80-foot maximum height for windmill towers for private systems is too low, but if people want taller towers, they could ask for a variance. He added that variances could also be requested if someone wants more machines per acre than allowed in the draft ordinance.

Commissioner Chuck Roberts expressed several concerns, including requirements for people who want to put up a wind-energy conversion system that doesn’t connect to the electrical grid. He said he was also concerned about windmills installed many years ago that might need permits now but couldn’t meet new standards.

John Nickerson of Stagecoach objected to wording about agreements even if systems don’t connect to the grid, and Malarchik said he would look to clarify some wording for those not connecting to the grid.

Nickerson also said he is building some of his own wind energy equipment and he didn’t feel he could meet some of the regulations in the draft document that he also didn’t feel were necessary, including for a building permit.

He also said he felt the ordinance could be stifling to private wind energy production.

Mason Valley residents Tommy Cartwright and Jim Dunlap indicated they felt the ordinance could take away private property rights without due process. Cartwright said he felt it should be a neighbor issue, not a county issue, and Dunlap said he didn’t feel a person should need the community’s permission before putting a windmill up.

The regulations include maximum decibel levels for sound, setbacks from property lines and other safety issues.