What’s a WECS?

Depiction of the large scale WECS’s that the Concerned Citizens protested at the County Level

Representatives from the Concerned Property Owners of Marshall County requested that Culver change their zoning ordinance regarding WECS’s and as a result, the Culver Plan Commission held a Public Hearing on an ordinance change at their August 2013 meeting.   (WECS is the acronym for Wind Energy Conversion Systems and applies to any device that takes wind energy and converts it to usable forms of energy.)  The initial request was for Culver to match the County’s zoning requirements which currently bans commercial WECS’s and allows residential systems with a Special Use Permit in selective zoning districts.  Unfortunately audience members requested that the ordinance be tweaked to further restrict residential systems as well.  At that time I spoke up and reminded the Plan Commission that they had recently created an A1 – Agricultural District with the intention of mirroring Marshall County’s A1 district.  This was done to eliminate discrepancy protests to extending our Territorial Authority.   The Commission agreed with my argument but still had some reservation so they decided to table the issue.

At the September Culver Plan Commission meeting the topic came up again. Russ Mason, Building Commissioner, had conversations with some farmers and had made some minor tweaks to the height restrictions for WECS’s.  Audience members also spoke up and protested the allowance of WECS’s in residential areas even under the special use requirements.  I again spoke up with two points:

  1. Variance from the Marshall County requirements would make it difficult to extend our territorial authority and in many ways the additional restrictions that were being asked for would cover property that is not currently under our control at all and;
  2. Picture of an Anemometer borrowed from Wikipedia

    An outright ban of WECS’s is extreme.  While the audience centered on the maximum allowable size of WECS’s, which in this case would be a 120′ tower with a 40′ diameter blade size, they fail to acknowledge that something of that size would be the extreme and would be unlikely to meet any of the requirements within residential areas.  I pointed out that by the technical description, the anemometer which is connected to my weather station at the office is technically a WECS.  It takes wind energy from a turning mechanism and converts it into electrical energy which provides a read out on my weather station.  To my frustration, many in the audience centered to my extreme example of an anemometer and did not understand my point that an outright ban would eliminate mechanisms that may well not be objectionable.

Pointing out that a ban would eliminate anemometers is no more absurd than fears that 120′ tall 40′ blade span wind turbines will be popping up all over town. My point was that technology is constantly changing and stifling all forms of wind energy conversion systems is extreme.  There should be reasonable language that controls the extremes while not trampling personal property rights and stifling innovation.  This is the difficult line that all zoning regulations must tread.  I sincerely hope that the Plan Commission deliberates this issue with a full understanding of reasoned goals and potential unintended consequences.

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