COOS BAY – In the garage of his Coquille home, Brendon Thrash is building a wind turbine.
It’s about the size of a five-gallon bucket.
‘The main thing I’m expecting out of this is charging cell phone batteries,” Thrash said. ‘I’m making one for fun; I like building things. My main goal is to build something and see if I can save a few pennies on electric bills.”
Small it might be, but he still needs to meet a host of state regulations to operate the device. And if he lived in Coos Bay, he would not be able to use the device at all.
Coos Bay has a moratorium on all wind turbine construction while it grapples with the issues a traditional turbine in town would likely create: excess noise, view obstruction and safety concerns. After two years with limited progress, the city plans to open the issue to public comment in early 2013.
‘What we would need is an ordinance to limit any negative impacts to neighbors,” said Laura Barron, the city’s planning administrator.
The city has created a draft ordinance available on its website that outlines multiple issues a home or business owner would have to address before building a turbine.
The ordinance focuses on issues created by large turbines, built as towers. Residents would have to show that noise would be minimal, viewsheds would not be disturbed and that the device would meet the highest safety standards, along with other requirements. Restrictions would be reduced for smaller devices, like the one Thrash is building.
The council will hold a series of public meetings on the ordinance in late February or early March, Barron said. The city also has a survey on its website to poll Coos Bay residents about the technology’s use in town.
‘The thing people are most concerned about is the visual impact,” said Ted Brekken, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Oregon State University. ‘If your neighbor puts up a 70-foot wind turbine, that is as high as a seven story building.”
But not all wind power technology requires huge towers.
Scientists have developed new wind power devices designed to produce energy for homes and businesses in urban settings. They’re called micro wind turbines, and they can be mounted on rooftops and the edges of buildings. Such designs are being tested and used around the country.
‘People try to do other things,” Brekken said. ‘They try to integrate wind turbines into the roof. People have tried to do that for a long time.”
But Brekken said those designs have had limited success, which begs the question: Even if turbines are allowed, are they worth it?
Limited power generation
‘The short answer is, (wind power) doesn’t work well in an urban setting,” Brekken said. ‘If the city allowed it, you could build it. But it will produce a tiny fraction of the amount of power its industrial brothers will produce.”
Wind is slowed dramatically by hills, trees and buildings, all of which abound in Coos Bay. Furthermore, wind is more powerful at higher elevations.
Industrial wind turbines are more than 250 feet tall. Coos Bay’s draft ordinance would allow turbines no higher than 70 feet.
The amount of power a turbine generates increases exponentially as wind speed increases.
‘In plain language, if you double the wind speed, there is eight times the amount of power present,” Brekken said. ‘The moral is, you do everything you can to get as much wind speed as possible.”
Although small residential wind turbines produce far less energy than industrial systems, they are not without their value, Brekken conceded.
If designed properly, a wind turbine could be used in conjunction with other renewable energy devices to power homes. They also can be used to offset electrical use.
‘If that is your goal,” Brekken said, ‘maybe a small wind turbine makes sense.”
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