A more lenient ordinance for siting residential and commercial wind turbines on unincorporated county land is set to go before the Board of Supervisors.
Proposed changes could allow as many as three small wind turbines at heights of up to 65 feet for homes and businesses seeking on-site electrical use without any permit. The current ordinance allows one turbine.
“What we’re trying to do is promote small, sustainable energy projects,” said Joe Farace with the county Planning and Development Services division.
Large wind turbine projects would continue to require a major-use permit and extensive environmental impact review.
The recommended changes also could modify the Boulevard Community Plan to allow more flexibility for large wind turbines, as well as fewer restrictions in Borrego Springs for small turbines.
The wind energy ordinance would continue to bar large turbines in areas where “view sheds” would be adversely effected.
When it comes to large turbines, nearly all in the county have gone up on remote federal and tribal lands. Many outlying areas to the east have sufficient wind, but lack transmission lines to move the electricity they generate.
“It comes down to the southeast corner of the county,” Farace said of areas where large wind farm potential exists.
One alternative the supervisors are considering would limit the possible siting of large turbines to a pool of 400,000 acres of unincorporated land.
A possible point of contention involves noise standards and Iberdrola Renewables, one of the largest producers of renewable energy in the country.
Its Tule Wind Power Project involves placing nearly 100 large turbines on more than 12,000 acres on mostly federal and tribal land in the McCain Valley. Some of those turbines would be on land over which the county has jurisdiction, and Farace said Iberdrola has some concerns about the ordinance’s regulation of noise levels.
The potential controversy surrounds how noise may affect nearby residents, particularly when a turbine blade is out of alignment and generating a whine or screeching sound.
Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said the company is aiming to begin construction on the McCain Valley project this fall, with plans for the turbines to come online in 2015.
“Our comprehensive environmental studies, which included sound, were conducted in accordance with – and in many cases exceeding – the requirements of federal and state guidelines,” Copleman said.
The company is working to secure all of its permits and is worried that the county’s proposed revisions will cause delay, he said.
Officials with the California Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego said large-scale wind farms have been hampered by economic pressures in recent years. But smaller projects are becoming more viable, in part because investor-owned utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric must offer a “self-generation incentive program.”
New technologies and smaller turbines are making wind-energy generation increasingly viable, said the center’s Terry Clapham.
“With the new ordinance, we’re hoping the process is less onerous for wind proponents,” Clapham said. “There are concerns that need to be addressed, but we’re starting to see a lot more interest in sustainable energy projects.”
The county’s existing wind energy ordinance has been on the books since 1985. Many of its requirements don’t make sense, given the advancements in related technology, Farace said.
Supervisors are scheduled to consider the updated ordinance on May 8.
On Wednesday, the five-member panel will consider a proposal from East County Supervisor Dianne Jacob to develop a comprehensive renewable energy plan that includes wind energy.
Jacob said the county needs a more comprehensive approach to maximize renewable energy opportunities to help reduce consumer costs.
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