CORPUS CHRISTI – A plan to build two wind turbines at Sinton High School might have traction despite a city board’s decision to reject variances that would have allowed the project to be built.
The disagreement over the turbines underscores the public policy questions that arise with technological advances that have made smaller turbines a commercially viable energy source for homes and businesses. Cities, suddenly confronted with the prospect of turbines dotting the municipal landscape, must address questions about noise, aesthetics and property rights.
The district’s board of trustees will consider options at a meeting Monday, Sinton Independent School District Superintendent Steve VanMatre said. District officials have concerns about the legality of the city’s vote and questions about whether the ordinance applies to the school district, he said.
The Sinton Board of Adjustments voted against the variances for the school district Monday night.
The district sought the variances as part of its plan to build two federally funded turbines on the high school campus.
School officials said the turbines will give students hands-on experience in science and math. Some residents opposed the variances over worries about noise and visual impacts from the turbines, and concerns that granting the variances might not be fair to other property owners.
Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission deliberated the issue in private, then made a recommendation without taking a public vote. The Board of Adjustment then met in private to discuss the recommendation before taking a public vote. Neither board discussed the issues in public, although they did listen to comments from residents.
“I think it’s fair to say that the district has concerns that there was a vote taken that … was not done in public,” VanMatre said. “Whether or not that rises to the level of taking further action, I don’t know.”
VanMatre said school officials respect the city’s process, “but we also have a responsibility to make sure that any option that’s available to our board of trustees, that they have time to consider that.”
Trustees likely will consult with their attorney during the Monday meeting, VanMatre said.
They also may consider whether to proceed with the wind turbine project on the grounds that the city’s ordinance doesn’t apply. VanMatre said the ordinance applies to residential turbines up to 40 feet tall. The district’s turbines would be about 160 feet.
City Manager Jackie Knox said even if the turbine ordinance didn’t apply to the district’s plans, there are other zoning rules prohibiting structures that tall. The turbines would be about as tall as the city’s water tower.
“Quite frankly, we’re exempt from this,” VanMatre said. “I didn’t feel it was in the best interest to play that card, and we felt that in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration it’s much better for everybody if we get the city’s blessing.”
The city, he said, knew about the district’s plans for two years before enacting its wind turbine ordinance in October.
“I believe that the ordinances were put into effect as a result of the specter of these turbines coming in behind the high school,” he said.
Knox said the turbine ordinance was put in place in response to a separate plan by the school district to erect a smaller turbine for electricity generation at the district’s agriculture facility. City officials worried about a proliferation of similar turbines at homes, so they enacted the ordinance to regulate height, noise and safety issues, Knox said.
“It was in no way, form or fashion directed at this situation that the school has right now,” he said. “That just basically blindsided us on what kind of project they wanted put in there.”
Knox said school officials should have talked to the city when they started considering the turbine plan in 2009.