For almost a year, the Orchard Lake Planning Commission has been fine-tuning a wind energy ordinance, but on Wednesday, April 6 the panel voted to send a final version to the Orchard Lake City Council for consideration.
Due to the number of wind energy ordinances cropping up in surrounding communities, the Planning Commission was compelled to draft a proposal of its own.
“The sentiment was that we wanted to be proactive and have something in place in case the city was approached,” said Planning Commission Chairman Vince Valvona.
During discussions, the commission debated whether wind energy turbines should be allowed on residential property, and fine-tuned noise restrictions.
“We had minor changes from the original proposal,” Valvona said. “Essentially the wind turbines will not be permitted in residential areas and we made provisions for noise levels and where they’re measured.”
Both types of wind energy systems would require a noise analysis prior to installation to measure the ambient noise in a given area. Initially, noise emanating from these systems couldn’t exceed the lowest ambient sound level in accordance with the city noise ordinance, but that was tweaked since the current ordinance proposal states noise levels would be measured at the closest residential property line.
“Now theoretically the noise level could be measured at the commercial property line rather than a residential property line 200 to 300 feet away,” Valvona said.
Medium-sized wind energy turbines would not be permitted given that these structures are typically found in agricultural areas.
The proposed ordinance would only apply to small tower-mounted wind energy turbines and small structure-mounted wind energy turbines, which would be permitted in specific districts subject to site plan review.
Structure-mounted would still be limited to special land uses such as religious, educational, or civic uses, such as for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Our Lady of Refuge, and Orchard Lake schools.
Small tower-mounted wind energy systems convert wind energy into “electricity through the use of equipment that includes any base, blade, foundation, generator, nacelle, rotor, tower, transformer, vane, wire, inverter, batteries or other components used in this system.”
Structure-mounted turbines — those mounted on a roof or side wall of a commercial building — would still be capped at 10 kilowatts of power with a height restriction of 15 feet above the highest point of the roof, and would only be permitted as special land uses.
“The combination height limit for commercial buildings is 35 feet, but we’d permit wind energy towers to be 15 feet above that height for building-mounted or those built on side walls for a maximum of 50 feet,” Valvona said.
There would be a 100-foot setback required in residential zoning for small structure-mounted units, and a 50-foot setback from adjacent commercial property.
For tower-mounted turbines, the power generated could not exceed 30 kilowatts. The setback would not exceed the height of the structure itself, meaning that if the tower is 50 feet tall, the setback could not exceed 50 feet.
Each type of wind energy turbine permitted would be limited to one per parcel.
The proposed ordinance also regulates lighting, appearance and location.
Currently, a wind energy turbine would be considered an accessory structure limited to 15 feet. Anything higher than that would be deferred to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The purpose of the ordinance is to promote safe, effective and efficient use of the turbines in order to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in producing electricity, and to preserve and promote public health by minimizing its potential adverse impacts.