Wind power closer to Suffolk

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Trying to cut down on your electric bills? Want to try a wind turbine in your backyard?

The Suffolk Planning Commission voted yesterday to let you do just that.

A wind turbine is a rotating machine, which converts the kinetic energy in wind into mechanical energy usable to power mechanical work of all kinds.

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The city had been receiving requests to allow citizens to put up wind turbines on their property in order to provide electrical power (either for on-site or off-site users). Under the city’s current Unified Development Ordinance, wind turbines were not addressed, and thereby not currently permitted.

An ordinance text amendment was proposed for the Commission to discuss during its September meeting.

During a brief presentation from Cynthia Taylor, assistant planning director for the city of Suffolk, Taylor told the Commission that alternative energy sources have been a popular topic of conversation for citizens lately. She also said that in 2008 the Commonwealth passed a new energy plan focused on reducing Virginia’s dependency on electricity.

City staff members reviewed many ordinances from across the country, and listed several conditions and considerations deemed necessary to allow a city to operate

wind turbines.

Among these concerns were limitations on a turbine’s height, the size of the lot necessary for housing a turbine and the distance from the turbine to private and public roads.

“They do have blades. They do rotate. They need special setbacks,” Taylor said.

Commissioner Ross Boone said he had issues with the amount of conditions that were listed that varied depending on the size of turbine you wanted.

“There’s a certain level of unfairness there,” he said.

Specifically, he referenced the fact that to just have one, small turbine on your property you would have to have one acre of land.

“I have ¾ of an acre, so that eliminates me, not that I want to put one up, but I might,” he said.

Planning Commission Chairman Howard Benton reminded the commission that the UDO is a living, breathing document that can be altered at any time. He said this wind issue was a testimony to the idea the UDO can be changed for anything.

A motion was then made to pass the amendment.

Boone, satisfied to know that the amendment could be altered, voted in favor as did the rest of the Commission, which voted unanimously to accept the amendment.

The matter will be sent to City Council on Oct. 15 for the final say.