Sep 13, 2009

Controversy over Residential Windmill Power Stations

The following excerpts a recent NY Times article(Turning to Windmills but Resistance Lingers 9-13-09 by Abby Goodnough) on the controversy a Cape Cod family is having with local neighbors and municipal codes over installing a residential windmill power station for their home. The issues appear to be the lack of aesthetics of the turbines and the often unsound installation of the windmills.

Wendie Howland grows her own food and heats her water with rooftop solar panels. She drives a Prius with a bumper sticker that boasts “One Less S.U.V.”

But when Mrs. Howland tried to take the next step in green living — installing a 132-foot windmill in her backyard that would generate enough electricity to power her home — she hit a wall. The planning board in this pastoral Cape Cod town twice rejected the project citing safety concerns and predicting “an adverse effect on the character of the neighborhood.”

Mrs. Howland’s defeat was sealed by a Superior Court ruling in July that backed the planning board’s decision, underscoring the steep odds that residential windmill plans face nationwide. After investing some $40,000 in a 10-kilowatt turbine and legal fees, Mrs. Howland and her husband, Francis, are giving up their two-year fight....................

The decision is likely to be scrutinized by towns across the region and even the nation as they grapple with how to regulate windmills on residential property. In wind-rich regions, clashes like Mrs. Howland’s are increasingly common as conservation-minded people seek to install small wind turbines on their property.

Battles over the height and noise level of residential windmills, and even over the shadows cast by their blades, are springing up from Maine to California, even as the Obama administration promotes renewable energy and the federal stimulus package provides 30 percent tax credits for homeowners who install wind turbines.

Many towns still enforce old laws that prohibit anything taller than 30 feet or 40 feet on residential land — a height too low for sufficient wind power generation, experts say. Wind turbines need to be at least 30 feet higher than anything within 500 feet, including trees, which often means a tower of 80 feet or more. The Howlands’ windmill would have been more than three times the height of an average utility pole, to ensure that the surrounding white pines did not interfere..................

While residential turbines remain a tiny fraction of the wind energy market, they are popping up often enough for many communities, especially in New England, the Midwest and the West, to start regulating them. Nearly 2,700 wind units with capacities of 10 kilowatts or less, the size used for residences, were sold nationwide last year, up from 1,167 in 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.

But challenges persist even in communities that have passed ordinances on windmills, like Bourne, where residents overwhelmingly approved a bylaw regulating windmills at a town meeting in 2007. The wind energy association estimates that one-third of small wind projects are thwarted by vague or overly strict local laws, or by outdated zoning rules that preclude them.

We have all been raised in a world where the local utility was the only power producer and we all just towed the line with what they had to offer us.

After Katrina, we feel many began to question if the dominance of the local power producer was the only way to go. The cost of the windmill project mentioned in the article above was in the many thousands of dollars, and if a family feels they can afford that should they not be allowed to manufacture their own power?

Sadly most families cannot afford such a project but there are smaller home power projects such as using a small 12 or 24 volt home battery and small solar panel to power small home appliances. Getting off the grid can be total as with this windmill project or piecemeal.

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