Commissioners propose changes for wind energy systems
By Joe Naiman
San Diego County Planning Commission wants to see some changes in zoning rules affecting wind energy systems.
Commissioners voted 4-2 on July 20 to recommend changes that would affect, among other items, definitions and setback and height restrictions. John Riess, Bryan Woods, Leon Brooks, and David Pallinger supported the revisions while Michael Beck and Peder Norby opposed them. Adam Day was absent.
The recommendation will be brought to the county supervisors, who are expected to review them this fall.
Commissioners heard an initial version of the revisions April 13, when neighbors and recreational area users complained about the impacts of wind turbines while industry and clean energy representatives argued that the noise limits were unreasonably restrictive. A May 11 workshop addressed various noise and biology issues.
In February 2009 the supervisors directed county staff to develop a two-tiered ordinance with less restrictive permit requirements for small turbine systems intended for personal or business use rather than for commercial wind generation sale.
The proposed change defines a small wind turbine system as one with a rated capacity of not more than 50 kilowatts that would generate energy for use on the same lot on which the wind turbine is located.
Proposed revisions would eliminate the definition of medium systems and would define large systems as having a rated capacity of more than 50 kilowatts.
Proposed changes also add a zoning verification permit, a ministerial permit issued by the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use to verify that a particular use or structure complies with all appropriate Zoning Ordinance regulations.
The commission retains the requirement that no part of a turbine in small systems be closer than 30 feet to any property line. The proposed changes also include a setback of 10 feet from any structure and prohibits any part of the turbine from being within 300 feet or within five times the turbine height, whichever is greater, from electric power transmission towers or lines, watercourses or water bodies, significant roost sites for sensitive bat species, recorded open space easement and designated preserve areas, or riparian vegetation identified on the county’s wetland vegetation map. Turbines or any part would also be prohibited within 4,000 feet of a known golden eagle nest site.
The maximum height for a small turbine would be changed from 60 feet to 80 feet. Up to three turbines would be allowed in a small system, and up to five would be allowed if all meet the zoning’s height limit and are mounted on an existing permitted structure. An administrative permit, which requires public review, may be approved for additional turbines if the total rated capacity does not exceed 50 kilowatts.
The amendments, if approved by supervisors, would allow small wind turbines with a zoning verification permit. Although the wildlife agencies involved in the workshop desired an administrative permit for small turbines in a pre-approved mitigation area within a Multiple Species Conservation Program area, a ministerial permit includes a compliance checklist. Only one small turbine will be allowed on a legal lot designated as a pre-approved mitigation area.
Concerns about biological issues also led to conditions prohibiting guy wires or trellis-style towers and requiring that all turbines be certified by the California Energy Commission. All power lines connecting turbines or generators to a structure must be underground.
Large wind turbines will need to be on lots of at least five acres. Minimum setback from private roads, open space, conservation easements, public roads, and property lines is proposed at 1.1 times the turbine height. Systems must comply with the maximum rural nighttime noise limit, and major use permit conditions will require compliance reviews every two years.
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