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County, neighbors fight over windmills

A battle is brewing between Baltimore County and such community organizations as the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition over windmills in residential neighborhoods. The county is devising regulations allowing windmills with restrictions. But PGCC and other community groups are opposed to windmills in people's backyards.

Community groups create gust of opposition over backyard devices.

A battle is brewing between Baltimore County and such community organizations as the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition over windmills in residential neighborhoods.

The county is devising regulations allowing windmills with restrictions. But PGCC and other community groups are opposed to windmills in people's backyards.

The issue is expected to burst into the headlines this fall when the County Council and the county Office of Planning deal with "small wind energy systems," in the jargon, with an electrical capacity of 100 kilowatts or less.

As the technology makes such windmills readily available, two recent cases in the county highlight the controversy and confusion. In Monkton, a county zoning commissioner ruled that a 120-foot-high windmill could be built on a 97-acre residential property. (That case is being appealed.) The second case is in Pikesville, where a zoning commissioner denied a request to build an 80-foot-high windmill at 3315 Timberfield Lane.

David S. Blum, the Pikesville resident, cited electricity costs for his request. More than a dozen of his neighbors... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Community groups create gust of opposition over backyard devices.

A battle is brewing between Baltimore County and such community organizations as the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition over windmills in residential neighborhoods.

The county is devising regulations allowing windmills with restrictions. But PGCC and other community groups are opposed to windmills in people's backyards.

The issue is expected to burst into the headlines this fall when the County Council and the county Office of Planning deal with "small wind energy systems," in the jargon, with an electrical capacity of 100 kilowatts or less.

As the technology makes such windmills readily available, two recent cases in the county highlight the controversy and confusion. In Monkton, a county zoning commissioner ruled that a 120-foot-high windmill could be built on a 97-acre residential property. (That case is being appealed.) The second case is in Pikesville, where a zoning commissioner denied a request to build an 80-foot-high windmill at 3315 Timberfield Lane.

David S. Blum, the Pikesville resident, cited electricity costs for his request. More than a dozen of his neighbors signed an anti-windmill petition sent to the zoning commissioner.

An engineer, Mr. Blum noted that neighbors' criticism ranged from windmills' unsightliness to the potential danger to Pikesville Middle School, which abuts his property.

Mr. Blum's windmill would have cost $32,000, including equipment, installation and connection to the electric grid to bring the energy into his house. By law, the electric company must allow energy produced by such means onto the grid. Excess energy that Mr. Blum could not use would go back to the grid and he would have received a wholesale credit from the electric company.

Mr. Blum estimated it would take six years to amortize the windmill's cost. Tax credits are available for alternative energy sources, but Mr. Blum said he did not know how much he would be eligible for.

In his ruling on Mr. Blum's petition last November, Deputy Zoning Commissioner Thomas H. Bostwick cited the difference in the amount of land in Monkton and Pikesville, and said Mr. Blum had not listed a specific model. But Mr. Bostwick also stated that "without clear guidance" from the county on the issue, he could not proceed.

Currently, the only county in the state to have regulations on personal windmills is Carroll, where the structures are allowed up to 150 feet high. Maryland has a "model" ordinance, but no actual regulations.

Baltimore County treats windmills like free-standing sheds for zoning purposes. Sheds are limited to 15 feet in height. If someone wants to build higher, they must apply for a zoning variance, according to Don Rascoe, director of the Department of Zoning and Permits Management.

Last April, in response to a County Council resolution, the Office of Planning issued a draft report on personal windmills. Kathy Schlabach, chief of strategic planning for the office, was in charge of the report.

"In Maryland, [the issue] has become more prevalent in the last two years," she said. "But other states like California have had regulations for personal windmills."

Earlier this month, the office's draft report was sent to the Planning Board, which formed an ad hoc committee to review it. By fall, the committee is expected to present its recommendations to the Planning Board, which after approval or denial will send them to the County Council for final approval.

Both PGCC, an umbrella organization of 17 neighborhood groups, and the Pikesville Communities Corp., representing 10 neighborhoods, oppose personal windmills.

"We support renewable energy," said PGCC president John H. Denick. "[But windmills are] enormous. I equate them to a cell tower, which we don't want in the middle of residential neighborhoods."

PGCC has formed a windmill committee headed by Ruth Goldstein, president of the Greater Midfield Association. In a letter this month to the Planning Office, Mrs. Goldstein cited an 80-foot windmill's incompatibility with a suburban neighborhood. The rule of thumb is that 10 feet of a windmill is equivalent to one story in a building, so an 80-foot windmill would be as tall as an eight-story building.

Mrs. Goldstein also talked about real estate devaluation, inadequate technical information, a lack of wind in the county and safety and liability concerns.

She has been closely following the Planning Board's ad hoc committee, as have other community groups such as the Long Green Valley Association. So far, Mrs. Goldstein said she is not pleased. The Planning Board's draft report does not require a wind study, even though that is the industry standard.

"There is minimal wind energy in Baltimore County," Mrs. Goldstein said. "In Midfield, there isn't enough wind for a windmill."

There is also the matter of real estate values. "The fear is people will put up a ‘trophy windmill,' to show they are environmentally friendly," she said. "It will sit there and be a blight. If the house is sold or foreclosed, there is no requirement [in the report] for the windmill to be taken down."

Mrs. Goldstein said she hopes her association and other groups will influence the committee to change some of the more objectionable provisions in the report. "Windmills do not belong in residential areas," said Mrs. Goldstein. "They should be in wind farms in designated areas."

Creating A Draft

The Baltimore County Office of Planning’s draft report for personal windmills recommends:

■only one windmill per property;
■minimum size lot is one acre;
■permitted in almost all zoning classifications (with a few specified exceptions);
■maximum height of 150 feet for turbine and tower;
■minimum setback from property line of 110 percent;
■energy generated has to be used by the property owner (in other words, it cannot be sold to a third party).


Source: http://www.jewishtimes.com/...

JUL 31 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/21489-county-neighbors-fight-over-windmills
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