Sparking new ideas
Public hearing for solar, wind ordinance set in Hancock
HANCOCK — Hancock’s draft ordinance for solar and wind energy installations will get a public hearing in January.
The Planning Commission voted to schedule the hearing after a discussion on the new ordinance Monday night.
The ordinance is modeled on one used in Montrose, Michigan. It would allow for accessory solar or wind energy systems — small units primarily providing power to be used on-site — in all districts.
Industrial use, where the generated power would be sold to a utility or other customers, would only be allowed in the I-1 industrial district for solar, and not allowed at all for wind.
Projects would require a complete site plan and other necessary documents and drawings. They would also need approval for a solar and wind zoning permit application.
Wind systems in residential areas would be bladeless or vertical axis turbines. In the industrial district, blades must have clearance of at least 20 feet above the ground and any outdoor surfaces such as balconies or roof gardens that may be used by people.
Except in industrial districts, only one turbine would be allowed per property.
Ground-mounted solar panels would have to be in the rear or side yards. On rooftops, they would be set back from the roof’s edge at least a distance equal to its height. All of the system must be no higher than 10 inches above the rooftop.
Industrial-scale solar systems are also required to have a decommissioning plan in place when they are built.
Planning Commission member Steve Walton, who prepared the ordinance along with Susan Burack, said he had gotten correspondence asking for clarification on the maximum decibel level, which is not specified, and vibrational level, which is required to not be “humanly perceptible” beyond the property line.
Other municipalities have imposed limits ranging from 35 to 50 decibels, Walton said. After discussion about turbines becoming louder during high-wind events, Planning Commission Chair Kurt Rickard suggested a standard limiting the system’s noise in relation to the ambient level — also likely higher during a storm.
Walton also mentioned a letter from attorney Kevin Mackey, who had drafted Adams Township’s recently adopted wind ordinance, created after the announcement of Circle Power’s Scotia Wind project. Mackey had told him commercial power companies do not need to abide by National Fire Protection Agency rules, including one having to do with lithium ion battery fires.
Resident Stephen Roblee questioned the need to add language regarding batteries. He said while lithium batteries may overheat, they are unlikely to explode.
“Some people just don’t want any alternative power,” he said. “We need alternative power, so we shouldn’t put in extra things that would discourage the development and use of it. You’ve got to do it. Sooner or later it’s going to have to happen, and it should be done with some forethought understanding the principles.”
Walton said he would consult with the city fire chief to determine whether the NFPA rule should be included. He said many of the people who have weighed in have cited problems with alternative power, but not been able to provide details.
“I’ve often wanted to say to people, ‘Are you trying to get this through with caution, or do you want to stop it,'” he said.
Roblee said he thought most solar power installations in the area would not come in the form of large solar farms. Instead, most would come from standalone systems, which are net metering, due to the restrictions in Michigan.
“That’s the stuff that is really realistic for this area,” he said.
“You could buy a solar panel nowadays for $100 … you could buy the same solar panel 10 years ago for $800,” he said.
Danielle Ahrens, who said she and her husband are planning to install rooftop solar panels, said the 10-inch restriction might not be feasible for flat roofs, such as Hancock Central High School or UP Health – Portage. She also suggested minimizing the use of qualitative requirements, such as a design requirement that the systems “shall, to the extent reasonably possible, use materials, colors, textures, screening and landscaping that will blend the facility into the natural setting and environment.”
“From my research, that’s something that can be somewhat weaponized a bit, if someone has a vendetta against energy,” she said.
Juxta Sprague said the ordinance would prohibit the energy upgrades he and his spouse had planned, including a ground array in front of their house and wind turbines on the roof. He said the draft gave the impression the city considers the systems “an ontological eyesore, which must be hidden at all costs.”
“We can have solar awnings on the front of our businesses, compact turbines on the tops of our homes, a solar park that mixes plants and panels to make a thriving green space for our citizens,” he said. “This is the kind of community we need to adapt to the future of our climate and I want to be able to live in it and embrace people with it.”
A copy of the draft ordinance is available at cityofhancock.com/news/1042.pdf.