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Zoning: illegitimate issues
Neighbors have the right to ask good questions but not to stop the project cold.
By MICK SagrILLO
mick Sagrillo, a small-wind consultant, owns
Sagrillo power & Light
and is wind energy
specialist for Focus on
him at msagrillo@
Over the last six columns, we’ve reviewed a number
of items that should be covered by any reasonable
small-wind zoning ordinance. In this column, we’ll
examine some things that present no real basis for concern,
and therefore should not be included when regulating small
Issues raised at numerous zoning hearings show that
most neighbors have no experience with small wind turbines. They don’t know that the technology has a 30-year
history of safe and effective operation. They don’t know what
to expect of a new turbine, and they deserve a researched
and respectful response to their concerns. This makes any
good-faith query legitimate. A bad-faith query is one meant
to deny a permit under any circumstances.
to stop a small-
the burden of
proof should be
on the neighbor.
Neighbors are aware of many concerns raised about
utility-scale wind farms on anti-wind websites. Unfortunately, much of the brouhaha surrounding wind farm siting
is based on speculation and conjecture, with no evidence
that the issue is legitimate even for a utility-scale turbine,
let alone a small-wind system. It’s senseless to force small-wind applicants to comply with the myriad engineering and
documentation regulations governing utility-scale projects.
It would be like asking bicycles to meet the standards written for tractor-trailer combinations.
There is an entire laundry list of issues that have been
raised about small wind turbines that have no basis in
reality. A few of these include:
• Shadow flicker.
• Blade glint and “strobing.”
• Ice “throws.”
• Low-frequency sound.
• Bird and bat fatalities.
• Increased lightning strikes.
• Stray voltage and “earth currents.”
• Electrical signal interference.
• TV and communication interference.
• Decreased property values.
• Spinning blades may trigger epilepsy.
• Groundwater contamination.
• Homeland security is threatened with radar
and telecommunication interference.
This is a small sample of issues that have been used to
stop permitting dead in its tracks, all courtesy of large-wind
permitting fiascos. Wind opponents ask the applicant to
prove that these things will not occur. The problem is, you
cannot prove that something will not happen. It is counter
to the principles of logic and the scientific method. The
sensible response: I cannot prove that this will not happen,
but I can report, demonstrate or document that it never
A second strategy used by opponents is to insist on a
“study” of the small wind turbine to evaluate some or all
of the speculative “safety threats” listed above. No agency
or institution will fund the study of a problem that hasn’t
occurred in the real world, so requiring such a study stops
the small-wind installation dead in its tracks.
A third strategy is to argue that a successful small-wind
installation may lead to the arrival of a utility-scale project at
a later date. This argument ignores the dramatically different
siting requirements of small turbines and large-wind farms.
When a neighbor seeks to stop a small-wind project,
the burden of proof should be on the neighbor to prove
that the issue is legitimate, and not on the applicant to disprove. Small-wind projects should not be required to meet
a standard of proof not required of other building projects
for which permits are authorized. Zoning administrators
and committees have a responsibility to all applicants to
give them a fair hearing.
The new administration in Washington has moved the
focus in this country away from dependence on conventional fuels and toward efficiency and renewables. It’s a
welcome shift that all citizens can participate in. Combined
with state renewable portfolio standards, renewed utility
interest in distributed generation sources and emerging
smart-grid technology, this means small wind will play
a growing role in electrical generation over the coming
decades. While a small wind turbine may not be appropriate everywhere, it makes sense to give interested citizens the
opportunity to participate in a sustainable future wherever
it is appropriate. Throwing up roadblocks to small wind out
of speculative or irrational fear is simply not responsible
practice, at any level of government. ST