Council allows for wind turbines

Published 10:39 pm Friday, November 7, 2008

At least three people can make their alternative energy dreams come true.

City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to let Suffolk residents put up wind turbines in their property.

A wind turbine is a rotating machine that converts the kinetic energy in wind into mechanical energy, which can be used to power mechanical work.

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According to Debbie George, communications director for Suffolk, the city has received three requests to allow citizens to put up wind turbines on their property in order to provide electrical power.

Under the city’s current Unified Development Ordinance, wind turbines were not addressed, and thereby not permitted.

One of those requests came from Roger Leonard.

Leonard owns an energy consulting company, and about a year and a half ago he wanted to test wind turbines in the city to see the feasibility of the wind power in Suffolk. When he began the work to build the foundation for the turbines, he found there was no way under the city code to get a permit for the work.

Leonard brought the issue to the planning department, along with research materials regarding wind energy.

After additional meetings with planning staff, a text amendment to the UDO allowing for wind turbines was brought before the Planning Commission in September with the recommendation from staff to adopt it. Despite some questions on the specific requirements, the commission voted 13-0 to allow for the change, citing additional changes could be made later.

When the matter was brought to council last month, council members questioned the specific allowable heights and the lot size requirements for wind turbines. Members voted to table the matter in order for planning staff evaluate these issues.

The amended ordinance eliminates the minimum lot size for small wind facilities.

After a brief presentation from Mills, the Council voted 7-0 to make the changes.

“I was happy to see that they finally did that,” Leonard said. “It’s really a pretty good ordinance.”

Leonard also says that wind turbines could have a good impact in the city, despite the U.S. Department of Energy rating the city 1 out of 7 for the potential of wind as a resource.

“That’s really not true,” he said. “I guess you could make that simple statement, but that’s just like saying ‘You’re from America, so that means you live in America.’ Well, OK, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

For example, he said in an area like Chuckatuck, you could get a wind rating of a 2 or a 3, because the wind coming down from the river is not affected by ground friction. Leonard did say that in the south side of the city there is “limited potential,” but it is still beneficial because of energy costs going up and wind turbine equipment prices going down.

“As energy becomes more costly, these systems become more economically viable,” he said. “It’s something that’s coming. I think that most people are just unaware on how these things work and how simple it is to operate them.”