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April 27 Planning Commission hearing to determine process of wind ordinance revisions

What was certain at the April 13 hearing of the county’s Planning Commission is that the proposed zoning amendments for wind energy turbines will require further refinement. An April 27 Planning Commission hearing will determine the process for revisions from the county staff proposal.

“It seems as though we have many issues that have come up from many groups,” said Commissioner David Pallinger. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to consensus on this.”

The public comment April 13 included neighbors and recreational area users complaining about the impacts of wind turbines while industry and clean energy representatives told the Planning Commission that the noise limits were unreasonably restrictive.

“We’re certainly not at a point of clarity today,” said Commissioner Michael Beck.

In February 2009 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors relaxed the permit requirement for meteorological equipment testing (MET) facilities which determine the feasibility of a wind turbine system. In addition to reducing the permit requirement for MET systems from a Major Use Permit to an Administrative Permit (which still requires public review), the supervisors directed county staff to develop a two-tiered ordinance for wind turbines themselves with fewer discretionary restrictions on private systems not used to sell energy than for commercial wind facilities.

The current ordinance defines small, medium, and large systems based on turbine height and blade swept area. The proposed amendments discussed April 13 would allow systems with a capacity of under 50 kilowatts to be allowed subject only to zoning verification while requiring systems at or above 50 kilowatts to obtain a Major Use Permit.

The proposed revisions utilized additional low-frequency noise rather than an actual decibel limit; county staff had proposed a c-weighted increase limit of 20 decibels at the property line.

The opposition included the California Department of Fish and Game, whose representative informed the Planning Commission that the proposed changes could jeopardize the county’s habitat programs which allow for county review rather than requiring separate wildlife agency permits.

“We’re talking about people who have to live with the results if we don’t do this right,” said Commissioner Bryan Woods.