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Interest in residential wind turbines prompts Albemarle to review its rules

Not long ago, Gordon Latter and his family applied for a building permit that would have let them install a residential wind turbine at his home atop a windy hill in White Hall. ...Yet Latter's plans were thwarted, at least for now. Albemarle County's zoning regulations do not allow installation of wind turbines.

Not long ago, Gordon Latter and his family applied for a building permit that would have let them install a residential wind turbine at his home atop a windy hill in White Hall.

"The wind is so strong up there, we could probably power all of western Albemarle County," said Latter, owner of Kane Furniture in Charlotte-sville.

Latter was willing to plunk down more than $15,000 to install a wind turbine that would have slashed his family's gas and heating bills, as well as minimize their carbon footprint and consumption of fossil fuels.

Yet Latter's plans were thwarted, at least for now. Albemarle County's zoning regulations do not allow installation of wind turbines.

The case underscores one of the toughest roadblocks facing Virginia's goals of cutting harmful emissions and developing a green energy economy. Local ordinances governing such renewable energy devices vary across the state, often stymieing businesses' and homeowners' plans to generate their own clean power.

"I hope Albemarle County wises up," Latter said. "Wind power can only be a benefit to everybody."

County officials have been weighing the issue... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Not long ago, Gordon Latter and his family applied for a building permit that would have let them install a residential wind turbine at his home atop a windy hill in White Hall.

"The wind is so strong up there, we could probably power all of western Albemarle County," said Latter, owner of Kane Furniture in Charlotte-sville.

Latter was willing to plunk down more than $15,000 to install a wind turbine that would have slashed his family's gas and heating bills, as well as minimize their carbon footprint and consumption of fossil fuels.

Yet Latter's plans were thwarted, at least for now. Albemarle County's zoning regulations do not allow installation of wind turbines.

The case underscores one of the toughest roadblocks facing Virginia's goals of cutting harmful emissions and developing a green energy economy. Local ordinances governing such renewable energy devices vary across the state, often stymieing businesses' and homeowners' plans to generate their own clean power.

"I hope Albemarle County wises up," Latter said. "Wind power can only be a benefit to everybody."

County officials have been weighing the issue since mid-January and expect to bring the matter before the Board of Supervisors in May.

Conflicting county goals

The problem, said Mark Graham, director of Albemarle's department of community development, is that wind turbines seem to be at the nexus of two conflicting county goals.

"On the one hand, we're supposed to be sustainable and self-sufficient," Graham said. "On the other, we're supposed to protect the county's rural areas."

Wind turbines must generally be visible above treetops to catch enough wind to generate power, Graham said. As a result, he said, some worry that turbines might blight the county's scenic viewshed.

"The biggest challenge is the aesthetic issue, frankly," Graham said.

A small but growing number of Virginia localities have enacted ordinances that permit residential wind power turbines. Rockingham County approved an ordinance last month, allowing turbines under special-use permits. That county's first wind turbine was installed in recent weeks.

Residential turbines are typically shorter and quieter than the traditional industrial models. A Charlottesville company called Skyline Turbines offers the smaller models to homeowners and businesses in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.

Jeremy Hayes, president of Skyline Turbines, said localities ought to approve policies that allow clean energy-producing devices.

"This is one of many avenues we must take on as Americans to achieve energy independence," Hayes said. "It's something each individual can contribute."

Hayes said he believes local zoning ordinances should allow the installation of the smaller, less noisy turbines on properties by right. Larger models, he suggested, could require a special permit from the locality.

"We look forward to the day when all counties in Virginia would have this opportunity," he said.

Industrial wind farms have proved controversial in other parts of Virginia, raising concerns that the turbines would be eyesores, would kill birds and bats, and would not generate enough clean electricity to be worth the drawbacks.

Rick Webb, a senior scientist at the University of Virginia, is a vocal opponent of industrial wind farms in the Appalachian Mountains. But he says the smaller models of residential turbines do not pose the same risks as the larger versions.

"I am not opposed to the type of turbines used for single families or farms," Webb wrote in an e-mail. "The rotor swept area is insignificant compared to commercial scale turbines, and they do not involve miles of mountain ridges. They do not involve industrialization of our remnant wild landscape. Albemarle should figure out how to allow them while disallowing commercial scale turbines (350-550 feet tall) on ridgelines."

Expert urges studies first

Webb added that he opposes industrial wind farms along forested mountain ridges, but is not necessarily opposed to commercial wind development off shore or in deserts or treeless plains. He said he believes that a rigorous environmental impact study should be conducted before allowing any such industrial wind farm.

Charlottesville-area environmentalists generally appear to support the idea of allowing residential wind turbines, though they agree that massive turbines could damage the region's rural character.

‘Have to strike the right balance'

"I'm excited to hear that Albemarle County is taking up the issue," said Morgan Butler, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. "They're going to have to strike the right balance. They need to make sure they don't allow turbines that are so tall they overwhelm the viewshed. But they also need to make sure they allow turbines that are tall enough to generate electricity."

Rob Marmet, an energy analyst with the Piedmont Environmental Council, also supports local zoning regulations that restrict tall and noisy wind turbines, while also allowing the smaller units that can power individual homes or farms.

"I don't think we should say they should always be allowed," Marmet said. "I also don't think they should never be allowed."

Marmet added that just about every energy and environmental issue involves trade-offs, and wind power is no exception.

"There isn't any energy project without consequences," he said. "There's no free lunch."

One hurdle to the expansion of residential wind power is the pricey up-front costs. A typical residential turbine carries a price tag of more than $15,000.

However, Latter said, the turbines make sense in the long term. Cost savings from the lower power bills add up over time to pay for the device. And homeowners generating excess electricity can sell the power back to the grid.

"Anything that we can do that moves us to cleaner, renewable energy - and saves us money in the long run - is a good thing," Latter said.


Source: http://www.dailyprogress.co...

MAR 29 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/19617-interest-in-residential-wind-turbines-prompts-albemarle-to-review-its-rules
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