ANNAPOLIS – In response to rising utility costs and encouraged by the state’s desire to lower its carbon footprint, Jeane and Joseph Flesch thought it would be ideal to install a small wind turbine next to their remodeled farmhouse on two-and-a half acres in Clarksburg.
“There is a lot of active farmland around us and we are zoned as a cow pasture,” Jeane Flesch said. “We have land, live on a hill and have tons of winds coming from the north and northwest.”
The Flesches are among a growing number of Marylanders who are working to install small wind turbines on their properties in order to lower utility bills and reduce their dependence on power plants. Despite living in a state that hopes to become a leader in energy efficiency, people like the Flesches are discovering that obtaining approval to install turbines is difficult.
The struggle is not with the state or even the power companies. The struggle is with county and local governments – many of which do not have laws in effect to deal with wind turbines.
“Montgomery County has no written regulations on wind energy and you can’t get a permit for the turbine,” Jeane Flesch said. “You have to get an accessory structure permit and that’s part of the problem – they haven’t dealt with it.”
The county initially gave verbal approval for a 60-foot turbine pole, but after filing the paperwork, the Flesches were told the maximum height was 50 feet. An appeal could take several years.
The 10-foot difference would mean generating approximately 100 fewer kilowatt-hours per month.
After agreeing to use a 50-foot pole, the Flesches were told they needed to get a Maryland contractor to approve the 8-square-foot cement base. Then, there was an issue over the depth of the trenches for the electrical lines.
An accessory structure is the only thing that windmills can fall under, said Delvin Daniels, permitting services specialist for the Montgomery County Department of Permitting. This means they would be subject to the developmental standards in regards to height, setback and lot coverage.
“When these codes were written, people weren’t talking about windmills,” Daniels said.
The owner of Potomac Wind Energy, Carlos Fernandez, who has been helping the Flesches gain the necessary approval, said that even though there has been steady progress in the wind turbine market, many local governments are unprepared.
The Flesches are not alone in their struggle.
Ocean City resident Jim Motsko is trying to install a wind turbine on his waterfront lot. Motsko doesn’t require a lot of energy, but after paying $3,500 in oil bills so far this year, and another $500 by year’s end, Motsko is fed up.
He and another Ocean City resident, Larry Layton, submitted proposals to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to approve wind turbines on their properties.
A small wind energy system draft ordinance passed the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 18, but still needs approval from the mayor and city council.
Joseph Ianni, president of ReDriven Power, Inc., an Ontario-based manufacturer and distributor of wind turbines, is finding growth in the market as prices for turbines drop and states and the federal government implement tax credits and other incentives.
“What we’re getting from people is a desire of wanting to be independent of price increases of power plants,” Ianni said.
The small wind market grew 14 percent in 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Growth is concentrated in states that have the best policies in place, said Ron Stimmel, small wind advocate for the American Wind Energy Association.
Oregon, California, Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Arizona already have small turbine laws. Many of those states have a model zoning law on which each county or jurisdiction can base their laws.
There are a lot of communities that don’t know what to do with this and a lot of communities have come to us looking for guidance, said Brandon Farris, the Maryland Energy Administration’s director of policy and legislative affairs. We have worked with the industry to put a model wind ordinance on our website, based upon best practices compiled from other states, he said.
“Somebody honestly has to go first,” said Ken Robinson, who is in the process of obtaining permits to install a 33-foot turbine on his Swan Point property in Charles County.
The Charles County Board of Zoning Appeals recently granted Robinson a variance to apply for the building permits to begin construction.
Some counties have already dealt with the issue. Carroll and Kent Counties have small wind turbine ordinances. Frederick County is in the process of conducting public hearings.
Commissioner David Gray of Frederick has seen no resistance to passing necessary zoning laws.
“I’m all for doing everything we can to enhance sustainability and they’re (wind turbines) an asset on the landscape rather than a detriment, so why not?” Gray said. “You know, I’m excited about it. I’m a tree-hugger anyway, a Republican tree-hugger.”
For the Flesches, the end is in sight. After a minor misunderstanding about whether their home was located in a historic district, their permit was approved last week.
“Everybody’s talking green, but there’s a lot of red tape in the government,” said Fernandez, the owner of Potomac Wind Energy. “We need to put some green tape on the government.”