The Somerset Planning and Zoning Commission voted to set noise levels for industrial wind turbines at 40 decibels in the nighttime and 65 decibels during the day. Maryland code sets decibel levels at 55 and 65 night and day, respectively.
The commission meets Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to continue revising the draft wind ordinance. A vote is not expected until Nov. 2.
A spokesman for Pioneer Green says a panel’s recommendations to lower the allowable noise level for wind turbines and to push back tower distance from property lines dooms industrial wind-to-energy conversion projects in southwestern Somerset County.
A majority vote by the Somerset County Planning and Zoning Commission to drop the nighttime maximum noise level 15 decibels below what is required by Maryland code “doesn’t make sense when the state of Maryland has it at 55,” said Paul Harris, whose company has invested several million dollars into a proposed 25-turbine wind farm in Westover.
In a 3-2 vote, the commission decided to set the nighttime maximum level at 40 decibels, compared to the state's 55-decibel maximum that some members said considers an average location rather than the quieter Lower Shore. Mr. Fitzgerald, Pat Carson and panel chairwoman Mary Fleury voted the reduction. The vote also keeps the daytime maximum level at 65 decibels, as state code.
“A chicken fan, a tractor or a party at a house can have more sound, and it doesn't make sense to make an arbitrary sound requirement for a wind turbine that is more stringent than the state,” Harris said after the meeting.
Member Glenn Ains said he voted against the noise measure because he was uncertain of trends in wind speed at sunrise and sunset. "At sun up and sun down, when are they most productive," Ains asked, saying he did not want to restrict sound at a time of day turbines could be at peak operation, and potentially noiser.
“I wanted a time limit,” Ains said.
In a split 3-3 vote, the commission also kept maximum tower heights at an already proposed 400 feet. A separate unanimous vote, though, subjects applicants proposing turbines greater than 200 feet to a review and approval by a clearinghouse for the Department of the Defense. It was unclear whether disapproval by the military would automatically halt a project. The Navy, for military testing purposes, has said on record it preferred turbine height in southwest Somerset County to not exceed 300-350 feet.
The panel voted unanimously early this month to require a minimum setback for property and state lines of 1,000 feet or two-and-a-half times the height of a unit, whichever is greater. Line setbacks for participanting turbine and county-maintained roads is one-and-a-half times the height or 500 feet, whichever is greater.
“They almost doubled he setback from the property line,” Harris squawked. “If this ordinance passes, with these changes, it would make utility-scale wind power virtually impossible.”
The commission meets again Oct. 2, and is expected to focus on bonding options.
The panel wants to complete draft changes and vote on a proposed final county wind ordinance by Nov. 3. The November date extends an Oct. 3 deadline to submit a final draft to Somerset County Commissioners for a final vote or rejection.