A zoning change that would allow two wind turbines near an elementary school moving toward final approval positions Crisfield as the county leader in wind generation.
The proposed 300-foot turbines planned for a 23-acre spoil site across from Woodson Elementary School, could supply up to 65 percent of the electricity needs of the Somerset County Board of Education if education officials agree to an offer by property owner Phil Johnson. They would join a third 300-foot-tall turbine planned for the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
An affirmative vote earlier this month by the Crisfield City Council pushed the rezoning of a spoil site across Woodson School Road closer to Industrial-2, which would allow for electric generation systems. A required second reading and final vote on the rezoning request is expected at the next City Council meeting.
The proposed Crisfield turbines should move more quickly through local governmental review because there is no municipal ordinance in place that restricts height and property setback within proximity of a school. Woodson is among a handful of school structures in which wind turbines taller than 150 feet could be allowed within 1,500 feet of a school property line if proposed provisions to the Somerset County zoning ordinance are approved.
The city approved a small wind-energy systems ordinance five years ago, which regulates residential-style turbines.
“Absence of an ordinance does not prevent things from happening; an ordinance allows some things and prevents other things from happening,” said Noah Bradshaw, code enforcement official for Crisfield.
For instance, the Somerset County Planning and Zoning Commission proposes that industrial-style wind turbines observe a minimum 1,500-foot setback from the property lines of schools, houses of worship, hospitals or day care centers. Proposed county provisions, which establish guidelines for industrial wind projects outside municipal limits, should receivea Planning Commission vote on Oct. 28.
It is unclear where on Johnson’s 23-acre parcel the proposed turbines would be erected, although Bradshaw said projects with a distance setback greater than the height of the contraption conceivably could win approval.
A 300-foot turbine would likely require at least 300 feet in distance from a property line of a school, hospital or similar institution, Bradshaw said.
“Three hundred feet is the length of a football field, so the turbines likely would be at least 300 feet from the school,” he said. The logic would be to assure clearance of a structure in the event the tower toppled, he added.
Johnson’s turbine proposal, including setback and other specifications, also would have to be approved by the city’s code enforcement office, Bradshaw said.
The City Council “is not approving a turbine,” Bradshaw said. “They are approving zoning that would allow an electric-generating and steam-generating plant.”
Johnson proposes to donate the turbine property to the Board of Education, while a private energy company would oversee the energy generating operation, he said.
“If it is approved, I’m to donate the land to the school system,” Johnson said last week. “It would be a savings to the school system” of between $3 million and $4 million during a 25-year period for two turbines, he added.
He might have to shop for another buyer of the energy. Somerset Superintendent John Gaddis said Wednesday that the board of education is not on board with the proposed partnership.
“I had discussions with Mr. Johnson and AED wind energy group, but in the end, the board of education did not sign on to the project,” Gaddis said.
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