Windmills might rise in Arundel neighborhoods

County Council could vote on issue next month

June 26, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

The Anne Arundel County Council could vote as early as next month on a renewable energy proposal that would allow small windmills in residential areas.

At a recent public hearing on the bill, sponsored by Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., about a dozen residents expressed opinions on the structures that could rise 120 feet.

"With all the oil spewing in the Gulf, we all need to be moving forward with alternatives," said Dillon, a Republican who represents District 3. "I have two power plants in my district. … Windmills are much more attractive than smokestacks."

Councilman James Benoit and Daryl Jones, both Democrats, are co-sponsors.

The legislation stemmed from the experience of Richard Hawes, a Pasadena resident, who attempted to build two windmills on his property. Wind turbines are not addressed in county zoning laws, but Hawes received a permit from the county for the project. The county Board of Appeals rejected it last year.

According to a 2009 survey by the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, 65 percent of those surveyed said they supported allowing the construction of wind turbines.

Andrew Gohn, wind energy program manager at the Maryland Energy Administration, called Dillon's proposal, "the most restrictive ordinance in the state."

Dave Abrams, a spokesman for County Executive John R. Leopold, said the administration supports renewable energy projects that "are consistent with the needs of the community."

The county used $21,000 from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to install 10 solar panels on the historic Plummer House, the visitor center at the Parris N. Glendening Nature Preserve at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary near Lothian. The panels are expected to produce about 2,900 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

In April, Leopold used a $500,000 state grant to outfit a 165,000-square-foot county building in Millersville housing warehouse space for police, fire, facilities management and the Board of Education with solar panels.

According to the council proposal, the turbines must be at least 1.1 times the height of the tower from other structures, roads or telephone lines. Roof-mounted turbines could not rise more than 35 feet above the roof. Turbines would have to be painted a "nonreflective, nonobtrusive color that conforms to the environment and architecture of the community."

The legislation details a rigorous approval process. For example, on properties smaller than three acres, a homeowner would have to receive a special exception, which requires a hearing before the county's planning and zoning office.

Still, some of Hawes' neighbors voiced opposition at last week's public hearing, saying the turbines are an eyesore and the noise they generate will decrease property values in their neighborhood.

Dillon said the structure's kilowatt production would be limited to less than 100 kilowatts, and the windmills would have to meet noise restrictions defined in each community's zoning district, generally defined as 55 decibels at night and 65 decibels during the day. Normal conversation is generally within the range of 50 to 65 decibels.

"These windmills, when you see them in practice, are much quieter than you imagine," Dillon said. "Technology has made them quieter."

He stressed that community covenants would trump the county ordinance.

A second public hearing is scheduled July 6 in council chambers. A vote on the measure could occur as soon as July 19.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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