Friday, March 21, 2008

Wind turbines in the town of Hays?

(submitted to HDN March 21, 2008)

Communications among Hays City Commissioners and the office of Planning, Inspection and Enforcement reveal that several inquiries have been received from land owners and local developers regarding permission to install wind turbines of various types within city limits. Not surprisingly, these communications reveal a prevailing uncertainty among officials on how to respond.

There is currently no permitting process for wind turbines of any size, nor any bylaws that regulate or define their appropriate installation or safe operation within city limits. The city is in the same boat as the county as far as wind turbines; they are neither specifically permitted nor specifically prohibited. How long can city council avoid addressing this issue?

The situation in Hays is by no means unique. All across the country, municipalities are grappling with the issue of how to regulate microgeneration from so-called 'renewable' sources. For example, a California judge recently ordered a couple to cut down two redwood trees that were shading a neighbor's solar panels, citing the homeowner's 'right to sunlight'.

Some might be surprised to learn that technologies promoted as green and good for the planet actually require some further destruction of it. They shouldn't be. All forms of energy generation have a unique environmental footprint and a substantial 'cost of harvest'. There is no free lunch. And as soon as we place a value on sun and wind exposure, conflicts over rights to access are bound to arise, as are conflicts surrounding the impacts caused by their harvest.

If a developer is allowed to install between five and ten wind turbines 50 feet high with 35 foot blades to help power a new senior's facility at the end of 33rd street what will this mean for adjacent properties? If PIE decides to permit these towers as 'accessory use' structures will adjacent landowners be prevented from building anything that might block their neighbor's 'right to wind'? Who would bear responsibilty for third party damages caused by flying turbine debris in the event of catestrophic failure? The owner, or the city authority that allowed its construction?

Will existing nuisance ordinances be sufficient to protect neighbors from the noise and vibration that can emanate from wind turbines and the annoyance of flickering shadows, all which can propagate well beyond property lines? Not likely. These nuisances are unlike any conceivable at the time existing ordinaces were drafted. Will the right to access a new form of energy supercede the rights of others to peace and quiet? These are the reasons a new ordinance is needed for Hays that specifically addresses the issues raised by these forms of microgeneration, both wind and solar.

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