OCEAN CITY – For the first time, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission has approved the installation of wind turbines in a residential district following a public hearing this week.
Mario Villa Santa has applied for a permit to install three small roof-mounted wind turbines on his residence located on the west side of the Boardwalk.
“This is one of the first applications being proceeded with,” Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith in reference to wind turbines. “We have had other applications but none of them have moved forward.”
Smith explained the wind turbines will be installed on the building’s high pitched roof near the ridgeline in order to receive the wind velocity needed to generate energy. Under conditional zoning regulations, the required setback is 1.1 times the height of the turbine from all adjacent property lines, public right-of-ways and public utility lines.
“They are more than the distance they need to be from adjacent properties based on the height of the device,” Smith said. “If it should fall down, it will fall on the property itself and not on the adjacent property.”
The code also stipulates wind turbines cannot exceed 55 decibels (dBA) in sound and its appearance cannot be made in an intrusive color.
Scott Lebowitz was present representing the product’s company, Energy Dynamics, which is located in Baltimore.
“The decibels generated will basically be nothing,” he said. “They are virtually quiet and there are no vibrations. As for color, we can do any color. We are contemplating on painting them in the roof color at this point.”
Lebowitz explained the platform the wind turbines are to be installed is a stationary structure built extending off of the roofline and down to meet the slope of the roof. The diameter of the wind turbines are four feet.
The wind turbine model proposed contrasts with the traditional image of wind turbines equipped with propellers, but are much smaller columns with fins extended off the sides that rotate. They are advertised to be silent.
The same model of wind turbines are currently pending to be installed in Baltimore awaiting city ordinances to be “revamped”. There are also several installed on the west coast and throughout the mid-west. The nearest model of this wind turbine is located in North Carolina.
Ultra Solar and Wind Solutions owner Michael Panco spoke neither in favor nor against the proposed installation.
Panco started off by saying that his company represents a silent and bird friendly product that has been tested and installed at the University of Maryland. He added that its products are backed up from non-bias data as well as the manufacturer’s data.
“We are happy to see small wind turbines come to Ocean City,” he said.
Living in a resort town, Panco was concerned over whether the devices were in fact silent and bird friendly based on other data then just the manufacturer’s word. He was also concerned because the applicant didn’t provide engineering drawing of how the wind turbines would be installed.
In response, resident owner Mario Villa Santa said he was not aware engineering drawing needed to be provided but is willing to submit it to the commission. He added that the propeller turbines are the structure to be concerned about.
“They are terribly noisy from what I know about them, and they are also not bird friendly,” he said.
Once the public hearing was closed, the commission members shared their opinions.
Commissioner Chris Shanahan started off by saying it is about time Ocean City “breaks the ice” on wind turbines. He added that as long as the commission receives the information assuring the project is code compliant he is in favor of it.
Commissioner Lauren Taylor hopes to receive some noise data in the near future.
“I just don’t think there is anything that is totally noise free,” Taylor said. “Even a child’s pin wheel that goes around has noise. There has to be some sort of decibel level … there has to be some data on that.”
Commissioners Peck Miller was also in favor and said this project is just what Ocean City needs. He agreed that the commission needed to receive an accumulative dBA reading of all three wind turbines as well as a rendering to depict the wind turbines in scale to the house, as well as what it will look like from the rear of the building.
“From a bird friendly aspect maybe a darker core color would keep birds from flying into the column,” he said. “It needs to be as bird friendly as it possibly can.”
Miller set the motion to approve the proposed installation of wind turbines, contingent upon receiving further information concerning an accurate dBA rating, the final color, and the engineer renderings of the structure.
“Welcome to being the guinea pig,” Commission Chair Pam Buckley said.