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Pomfret board discusses wind tower law

Revisions to Pomfret’s 2007 local law regarding non-commercial small wind towers are under way.

Wind energy conversion systems, or WECS, were a topic of discussion at a recent town board workshop meeting.

Town Attorney Jeffrey Passafaro explained the board would need to “define what is small” and work through the existing code piece by piece.

Passafaro explained technology has changed making smaller units capable of producing larger amounts of energy, and the board felt the current law is inadequate to address newer units.

The current code is written to address commercial wind installations and has a subsection which outlines small WECS for individual use.

While the board is in preliminary stages of redeveloping the code, much of the remaining law will remain intact, such as the limitation to one WECS per lot. Setback distances from roads and utilities appear unlikely to change, although new wording may be more inclusive of utilities, buildings and roads. A minimum of 500 feet is currently the required distance from roads.

Areas which are being addressed include “nameplate capacity” or the greatest amount of energy a unit is rated to produce under full operating conditions. The current law allows for up to 65 kW nameplate capacity, but the board is considering expanding that capacity to 100 kW.

Passafaro told board members they must decide to select language that either specifically allows WECS in certain districts, or specifically excludes WECS from certain districts. In the former case, residents would be able to request a use variance, but not in the latter case. They must also decide whether the residents will have to come to the board or the zoning board of appeals to request a variance. The current law requires an appeal to be filed with the town board.

Areas already designated as conservation districts will not likely be considered for WECS development by the board, according to Supervisor Donald Steger, who pointed those areas out to members on a map of the town.

The current WECS height allowed is 65 feet, but board members are considering raising that to 100 feet for certain acreages. A distance of one and one-half times the height is required for a fall zone within the resident’s property line, and must also conform with setback distances. Lots consisting of over five acres of land may be eligible for taller towers, possibly up to 150 feet.

Also under consideration is the minimum lot size. Currently, a resident must have at least one acre of land to install a small WECS, but Passafaro told the board a minimum of two acres is a safer limitation.

Much discussion focused on the distance a tower must be placed from other existing homes, but no consensus was developed at the meeting.

The board will revisit the topic at later meetings before revising the local law.