Sunday, October 05, 2008

Neighbours, council fear turbine could provide more than energy

Bylaw waivers sought to allow structure on backyard property

Brendan Kennedy, Ottawa Citizen

Published: Wednesday, October 01, 2008

OTTAWA-Councillors on a committee that handles minor bylaw exceptions struggled for two hours Wednesday to figure out what a backyard wind turbine has in common with tall flag poles and noisy air conditioners.

And then, after six months and more than $5,000 worth of research and paperwork, Island Park resident Graham Findlay learned he had to wait at least one more day to find out whether he can erect a small turbine on his Iona Street property, the first application of its kind in Ottawa.  There are no bylaws that address urban wind turbines directly.

Mr. Findlay's turbine, the Energy Ball V100, stands about 10 metres tall - a one-metre "energy ball" that catches the wind on top of a nine-metre pole - and Mr. Findlay wants to set it up about a metre and half from his rear property line.

Existing bylaws limit such structures to 4.5 metres and say they must be set back from property lines at a distance equal to their height. Mr. Findlay asked the committee to remove the "unnecessary obstacles" to individual power generation.  "This is a significant symbolic opportunity to take a step forward and I appeal to the committee to open the door to this possibility," he said.

Mr. Findlay, vice-president of a company that builds large-scale solar and wind farms, told the committee he already holds a 20-year contract to sell power to the provincial power grid.

Mr. Findlay's turbine cost about $6,000 and can produce up to 500 watts of electricity during peak winds, which Mr. Findlay says could supply about 10 per cent of his household's energy needs.

The committee questioned Mr. Findlay about the noise the turbine would generate, whether it would throw ice, the likelihood that the turbine would fall over onto adjacent properties and whether the device could withstand winds of up to 100 km/h.  The man whose house backs onto Mr. Findlay's property also made a presentation to the committee to express his and his neighbours' opposition to Mr. Findlay's proposal.

John Earl, who lives at 177 Faraday St., brought along a petition, which he said was signed by more than 20 other residents who are opposed to Mr. Findlay's proposal.  He said he's worried about the safety of the turbine, its proximity to his property, the potential for the machine to throw ice, its visual and noise impact, and the fact that there is little Canadian research on the impacts of urban wind turbines.

"I'm all for being green," Mr. Earl said after the hearing. "The key is that I support green technology that makes good sense in a dense community, and that promotes a safe and logical approach to implementing green technology."  Mr. Findlay presented the committee with a study by the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands, which found that the turbine did not create any measurable sound beyond natural ambience.

He also said the turbine's blades are too weak to throw ice and that since the tower is anchored 2.1 metres into the ground, it is "highly unlikely" that it could be blown over.  Mr. Earl said there needs to be more public discussion about wind turbines before the city grants its approval, adding that the city could create test sites where various urban wind turbines are "investigated in a safe way."  The committee's decision on Mr. Findlay's proposal could come as early as Thursday.

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