County Revamps Development Code For Small Wind Turbines

(November 9)   SAN BERNARDINO – The county board of supervisors this week significantly reduced restrictions on small scale windmills utilized for the generation of electrical power. In particular, the revision of the county’s development code will allow more wind turbines to be constructed on residential properties in the county’s rural areas.
According to Christine Kelly, the director of the county’s land use services division, the ordinance presented to and approved by the board on November 6 was intended “to revise the regulations for accessory wind energy systems to recognize new technologies and amend the development standards for these systems, which standards currently prohibit the installation of smaller, less impactful systems on residential properties.”
Following the July 1, 2002 implementation of Assembly Bill 1207, which pertained to small wind energy systems, San Bernardino County adopted an ordinance in November 2002, that established procedures and development standards for the installation of such devices within “non-urbanized” settings in its jurisdiction.
According to Kelly “These new regulations proved to be inadequate for the protection of the residents within the county. Primarily, the visual impacts of these wind energy systems and the lack of notice to the surrounding property owners produced considerable reactions from the residents within the various neighborhoods of the county, particularly in the Oak Hills area.
Due to the numerous complaints from local residents, staff reevaluated the 2002 development code procedures to address these issues associated with the permitting process for wind turbines. On December 20, 2005, the board adopted revisions to these regulations in order to provide a uniform and comprehensive set of standards, conditions, and procedures for the placement of these systems in a manner that minimizes visual and safety impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods and the community.
“Since that time,” Kelly continued, “new technologies have been developed to generate electricity with smaller, less impactful systems that should be recognized by the county in its development standards for these systems. Recently wind energy proponents have been frustrated by development standards that they believed hampered their attempts to employ new wind electrical generation technologies such as roof-mounted systems and small-blade technology. Limitations on the number of turbines permitted and separation requirements made it difficult to design effective new roof or building-mounted systems. In response to public input, including requests from various industry representatives, staff has evaluated the current regulations relative to these systems, along with those from other jurisdictions, and has determined that the county should amend the code to reflect these new technologies and to clarify other provisions of the code.
The code amendment adopted by the board revised the regulations for accessory wind energy systems. Previously, each less-than-20-acre parcel was permitted a maximum of one windmill and larger parcels were permitted to have no more than three windmills. If the units were less than 50 feet in height, a maximum of two turbines per five acres was allowed.
The new rule does away with the limitation by number of units and instead imposes a limit based upon wattage. In this way, the number of units is limited to a maximum of produced wattage of the combined systems of ten kilowatts for residential and fifty kilowatts for non-residential properties. The new rules allow for more than fifty kilowatts to be generated if it can be demonstrated that the total amount of electricity is being used on site.
“The goal was to not necessarily limit the number of units, but to ensure that energy generation remained an accessory use,” Kelly said. “The new county policy will ensure that wind energy systems remain accessory uses by limiting the amount of energy produced to energy that could be used on-site. The maximum power generation was based on typical usage estimated by the American Wind Energy Association.”
The new regulations  address what Kelly referred to as “building-mounted systems.”
The previous rules did not define building-mounted systems but involved so-called “separation requirements,” which prohibited more than one system attached to a structure per parcel.
The new rules require applicants to meet manufacturer’s separation requirements, but allow the possibility of multiple units to be located on one parcel. This new regulation addresses new technologies which involve smaller units but greater numbers of units.  The previous separation requirements required a separation of 240 feet between systems on the same parcel. Under the new rules, both towers and building mounted systems need to be located appropriately to function efficiently. Other regulations with regard to setback requirements from the property line still apply even with the elimination of the standard for separation between units.
With regard to permit requirements, the county’s previous policy called for windmill operators to obtain an accessory wind energy permit for all systems greater than 35 feet in height but contained a permit exemption for units of lesser height. The new policy maintains the exemption from the land use permit requirement if only a single unit of less than 35 feet is proposed for a parcel. Such projects, however, still require a building permit. If multiple units are proposed for a parcel, the exemption from the permit requirement would not apply even if the units are 35 feet or less in height.
The revision allows for the notification of neighbors when multiple units are proposed. The accessory wind energy permit is a discretionary permit that requires noticing to all surrounding property owners within 300 feet from the subject property boundaries. The code establishes the staff review with notice procedures to process such an application. This permit and notice are primarily required to ensure that all units are located on a site with the least impact to neighboring properties. Any decision made on these permits may be appealed only to the planning commission, the decision of which is final. The board of supervisors does not hear appeals on windmill permits.
Retired county planning director James Squires, whose tenure with the county predated Kelly’s hiring and who had dealt with the windmill issue in years past, by special arrangement was brought in to present the proposed code changes to the board.

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