HIGHTSTOWN – There was nothing in the borough code allowing it, so it was technically forbidden.
That’s what borough resident Greig Simpson was told when he approached borough officials with the idea of installing a small wind turbine on his home – an effort to incorporate renewable energy technology on his property.
Undaunted, Simpson began lobbying borough officials and staff to craft an ordinance that would allow him to do just that, attending countless meetings to allay the concerns of officials that the device he had in mind would create any type of noise or disturbance for his neighbors.
Now, two years and many meetings later, Simpson has the technology in place, including a series of solar panels, and there is an ordinance on the books expressly allowing for – and regulating – solar and wind energy systems.
“I had been thinking of doing some type of alternative energy for years,” he said. “I like the idea of wind and solar.”
Simpson did the research, and even found a kit including a small turbine and solar panels. But it was when he purchased the kit that he learned about the code deficiencies. He was essentially faced with two options – to pursue a zoning variance, or wait for the planning board and borough council to devise an ordinance that would allow and regulate renewable energy devices.
Simpson knew that applying for a zoning waiver would cost him legal fees and other expenses while his device might never be approved.
“I did not want to pay the money to get a zoning variance without any guarantees,” he said. “That started my almost two-year process of getting this ordinance.”
Councilman Larry Quattrone said the ordinance, a first for the borough, came about because of Simpson’s encouragement.
“We had a resident who wanted to put a wind turbine on his roof, and he went to the planning board with it,” Quattrone said.
Quattrone said the planning board devised regulations that were sent to the council for review and amendments. Once the planning board approved the edits made by the council, it was brought to a vote during a public meeting – and was enacted in the fall.
“It is a normal process with this type of thing,” he said.
Mike Cerra, director of government affairs for the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said that many jurisdictions across the state are confronting similar legislative questions as green technology gets a grassroots push for adoption.
“This is still somewhat of a new phenomenon,” he said. “Towns are confronting these issues.”
He said Simpson’s solitary effort to persuade his town to make way for green technology is not typical of the way things happen in local government.
“That long one-on-one process is probably somewhat unique,” he said. But, he added, the ordinance being passed was an example of the legislative system working.
Simpson said many of the concerns expressed by the planning board and council had to do with the appearance of his desired turbine and how noisy it would be. He provided information to the borough, even bringing the turbine to a board meeting at one point to allow it to be inspected.
“They were thinking (of) a big, 100-foot turbine with 20-foot long blades that do make noise and do create visual issues,” Simpson said, noting that his device is a far cry from that level. “It stands about 8 feet tall on top of my roof.”
The turbine has blades of about 6 feet in diameter, he said. Even when a fairly strong wind is blowing, he said the noise does not exceed that of a dishwasher, a sound often drowned out by the wind itself. Simpson also has his own decibel meter, and has tested to ensure the turbine does not create a disturbance.
Simpson says he has not received any complaints from his neighbors. He also solicited, and received, agreement from each of them before installing the device on his property.
“All of the neighbors were positive about it,” he said.
Between the solar panels and wind turbine, Simpson said he generates about 65 percent of the power he consumes. He noted that Hightstown does not receive the offshore breezes that can truly generate high levels of power.
“As a single energy supply, that is not the thing,” he said. But included in the system are batteries that store energy generated by the turbine and solar panels, which could supply enough power to run lights and other general devices, including a refrigerator, in the event of a power outage, he said.
Simpson anticipates that the system will pay for itself in about 14 years, taking into consideration the cost of the devices themselves, installation and the battery system for his home.
Quattrone praised Simpson’s initiative in seeking the ordinance and the resulting legislation.
“It is going to be an avenue for the future,” Quattrone said. “I think you are going to see this more often. And I think we are on top of it, and a little ahead of it.”
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