TOWAMENCIN >> Township officials are continuing talks on potential new regulations for wind energy systems, and hope to hear from residents during a public hearing later this month.
The township’s supervisors heard details from Jon Lesher, a senior environmental planner with the Montgomery County Planning Commission, on various types of wind energy systems and how a draft township code would regulate them.
“I think your ordinance is good. I had a couple of smaller comments, but overall I think the township has done a pretty good job,” Lesher said.
Lesher outlined three types of wind energy systems which he said MCPC typically sees addressed in regulations across the county. Horizontal axis systems are usually pole-mounted, propellor-style systems similar to traditional windmills, while vertical axis turbines tend to be shorter, produce less energy, and feature upward facing blades spinning around a central vertical shaft. Building mounted systems can be oriented either horizontally or vertically, and typically produce less energy due to their smaller size and therefore are seen in groups.
Lesher outlined the differences between each type of system, the typical height and wind speed each usually needs to produce enough energy to pay back the initial investment, and the breakdown of equipment costs against soft costs for approval processes.
“Developers always complain when they come into a municipality where there is no wind ordinance, that they spend so much time working through the process,” he said.
“That time and money, those costs are then put on the residents, so having an ordinance will promote and make it cheaper for your residents to have wind (systems),” Lesher said.
Towamencin’s draft code proposes a height limit of 55 feet for pole-mounted systems, which Lesher said is “not the highest I’ve seen in the county, but higher than others,” and requires pole mounts be set back a distance of 1.2 times the height of the structure, slightly higher than the common 1.1-times setback.
Roof mounted systems are prohibited in the draft Towamencin code, and Lesher described industry standards typically used in areas that allow that type of system; the draft code also prohibits advertisement and requires neutral colors on any wind systems. Feedback from the board centered largely on those roof-mounted systems, and whether the township should require any structural engineering study and inspection period if it does choose to allow them.
Lesher said he recommended engineering studies be required if the board does ultimately choose to allow roof-mounted systems on existing houses, and said property owners will typically perform wind studies to determine if a system is feasible before choosing to install one. No other ordinance that he has seen requires an inspection period for systems to be checked periodically, but requiring one “seems prudent,” he said.
Supervisor Dan Littley said he was concerned about existing homes not designed to handle the stresses of roof-mounted systems, and said he felt the township code should keep the prohibition on those while allowing the other two types.
“I don’t mind wind energy. I’m a proponent of it. I think we ought to be smart about it, be safe, and not authorize it on rooftops, especially residential rooftops, until there’s more information,” he said.
Supervisor David Mosesso said he had no problems with allowing any systems so long as structural engineers and periodic inspections were required, and supervisor Jim Sinz joked he preferred more reliable fossil fuels to wind energy anyway.
“If we have to subsidize something to make it as good as coal and oil, I don’t see any reason for it, but as long as it’s safe, our plan si fine,” Sinz said.
Towamencin’s supervisors next meet at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the township administration building, 1090 Troxel Road. For more information or meeting agendas and materials visit www.Towamencin.org.
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