TOWAMENCIN >> Should Towamencin establish rules regulating wind energy systems, and the types that can be installed on homes within the township?
That topic has been discussed by the township’s planning commission in recent months, and was the subject of lengthy talks by the township supervisors Wednesday.
“Last year, we were looking at alternative energy sources. They’re relatively new, and our zoning code doesn’t address those,” said township Manager Rob Ford.
Staff and the supervisors spent much of 2014 and early ‘15 discussing, and ultimately passed, regulations governing solar energy systems , and Ford proposed a similar set of regulations for wind energy systems Wednesday. During the discussion, Ford showed a slideshow of several different types: the familiar windmill style systems, sleeker turbine-shaped systems, and smaller contained cylinders designed to look like roof-mounted heating equipment.
“Right now, the way the draft is written, it prohibits any rooftop wind energy systems on residential roofs. Would the board want the planning commission to go back and look at that?” Ford asked.
Ford and township Engineer Tom Zarko said the draft code has been reviewed by both the township and Montgomery County planning commissions, and Zarko added advice from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. DVRPC suggested either a ban on residential wind systems, or to include “some pretty substantial engineering requirements as part of the overall approval process,” Zarko said.
That feedback led to a lengthy discussion by the board, with Supervisor Dan Littley suggesting the draft code be reviewed by the township fire company to hear if they have any safety concerns about working around devices on roofs during emergencies.
“Right now, somebody could build something on their own and put it on the roof. Is the roof capable of handling it?” Littley said.
“When you get out of balance, if you don’t shut these things down, you may find them rolling through your yard or your neighbor’s yard. I’m against putting these on roofs,” he said.
Supervisor David Mosesso said he was more confident the manufacturers of wind systems would work out those problems before selling any, and said he felt residents should be trusted to ensure their installations are safe without strict standards from the township.
“If they’re going to sell something that doesn’t work, they’re not going to be in business very long,” Mosesso said.
“How much governance do we have to put into this? Why does government have to get so involved?” he said.
The two debated the need for regulation further, with Mosesso saying he had no problem with the fire officials reviewing the code, but thought no further regulations would be needed.
“Who are we to start telling people what they should have and what they shouldn’t have? We should be more concerned about the serviceability and if it’s safe, and that’s about it – anything else, we should leave it alone,” Mosesso said.
Littley replied by noting solar systems and wind systems could both be hazardous to firefighters who could need to climb on a roof during a fire, and could prevent firefighters from getting to places they need to reach.
“What’s the fire department supposed to do, just let it burn through and drop in?” he said.
“Our primary job is the health, safety, and welfare of the community, and looking out for our residents,” Littley said.
Board Chairman Chuck Wilson pointed out no regulations for wind systems are currently on the township’s books, so residents can currently install the systems with no limits, and passing a blanket prohibition could always be amended later – as the solar code was – if residents request allowance of certain types.
“If there’s some groundswell to do that, we can always send this back to the planning commission,” Wilson said.
After further discussion, the board voted three-to-two to advertise a public hearing on the wind energy ordinance at a future meeting, with Mosesso and supervisor Laura Smith voting against.
The board held a similar discussion on an update to landscape buffer requirements, concerning the amount and types of plantings required along the borders of commercial parking lots. After a similarly lengthy discussion, the board voted to send that draft code back to Zarko for further refinement, and discussion at a future meeting.
Towamencin’s supervisors next meet at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 at the township administration building, 1090 Troxel Road. For more information or meeting agendas and materials visit www.Towamencin.org.