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Wind turbine variance decision on hold


October 07, 2009
After holding a public hearing for the first proposed wind turbine in Gilford, and without an engineer to answer specific technical questions, the Zoning Board of Adjustment decided to resume the hearing at a later date.

Lorraine and Richard Lavalliere, who live at 62 Belknap Point Road, are seeking a variance for their classified "small wind energy system," to place the wind turbine somewhere other than their 150-foot wide shorefront. Their attorney, Regina Nadeau, explained that the Gilford Zoning Ordinance for such procedures has many setbacks and appears to be much more strict than the state ordinance to permit the construction of a 52-foot high turbine.

"We are requesting under the new section of the ordinance. The town requires one and a half times the distance from the property. The state says 1.1 times," said Nadeau, who described the town's ordinance to be "very restrictive."

Nadeau added that the applicants were in need of a minimum height of a 50-foot turbine in order to generate adequate power, and that this could be done closer to the applicant's property, and farther away from the shore where the unit may not generate the same amount of power. She said the applicants felt that the turbine would work more efficiently as well on their newly proposed site, according to their consultant, although the proposal would cost the Lavallieres $20,000.

The ZBA asked that the Lavallieres hire an independent engineer to test the property and the different sites, one of which is in need of a variance and another on the shoreline, though the shoreline is not a desired location for the applicants, who fear the turbine could cause an "eyesore."

"If the town followed the states recommended guidelines, we would still meet the 50-foot tower (requirement)," said Nadeau. "It's the first windmill in Gilford. We don't want it to be sticking out on the shoreline."

Nadeau said that manmade and natural features already present on the Lavallieres property would be taken into consideration, as she presented photos to the board. The Lavallieres proposed location has a large tree buffer and a significant tree line to partially block neighbor's views of the turbine, but some trees that would need to be trimmed or removed in the process.

The docks also obstruct the view of the turbine, said Nadeau, who described the turbine as a black pole, much like a basketball hoop but mounted on a slab, with three blades on top.

"We could site the generator on shore; however, it wouldn't be aesthetically pleasing and could result in a financial burden. The only other method avaliable could obstruct other views," said Nadeau. "It would be in the public's interest to keep the turbine out of the shoreline area."

ZBA Chair Andrew Howe remained skeptical during the hearing, saying that the Lavallieres technically did not need to request an ordinance for the shoreline site on their property, but wished to seek out a variance for a different site that requires acceptance from the board.

Howe said he had the most difficulty grasping the concept of "hardship" in the terms that his applicants described it, and repeatedly asked Nadeau for clarification.

"You're saying we have a place where we don't need a variance, but we want to be granted a variance for over here," said Howe, who said he didn't find this to be much of a "hardship."

"You can put the turbine on shore, but it doesn't seem to make logical sense when looking at the rest of the ordinance if there is a possible alternative," answered Nadeau.

She said that Town Planner John Ayer said he was concerned with the regional impact, if the turbine was placed on the shoreline site. According to Ayer, she said, if the turbine is seen from Lake Winnipesaukee, the town is legally required to notify surrounding towns that touch the lake.

Nadeau added that efficiency had much to do with the applicant's hardship as well.

"There's an added benefit of putting the unit up above. It would be a more efficient energy generator situated at a higher elevation," said Nadeau.

The board also asked Nadeau several technical questions about the turbine that she could not answer since the consultant she had worked with was not there.

Board members also had a few safety questions about the blades, how fast they moved, and what would happen if they froze in the winter.

Howe wanted to know exactly how loud this commercial turbine could get, considering generators in larger turbines tend to hum.

The applicants estimated that the turbine would produce about 45 to 52 decibels with the wind, although Nadeau admitted she would have to go back to the consultant's data to give accurate answers since this was not her area of expertise. Not much more technical data was avaliable, said Nadeau, who could only suggest that the board take a continuance.

Abutter Dick Hickok, whose property is adjacent to the Lavallieres, stood during public comment and addressed the fact that he is the only neighbor who will be able to see the turbine from the site that the Lavallieres have proposed on their property.

Hickok said he would be able to see the turbine through the door in his garage, and that he would rather the turbine be closer to the shoreline so that he didn't have to hear the generator. He was concerned about safety issues as well.

"I don't know what the answer is either. Ice could be going the distance," said Hickok suggesting what could happen if the propellers froze and fell off.

Hickok was also concerned with the value of his property and had consulted with real estate agents prior to the hearing.

"Putting it on the shoreline devalues the property. My marketability is shot; the property value goes down. With the turbine in sight, we are talking $100,000 to $300,000. Other properties have trees. I have nothing," said Hickok.

Although Hickok does not want his neighbor's turbine in his plain sight, he said that he can't disagree with green energy, and understands that it is becoming more popular.

Another neighbor, Alexandra Breed, wanted to know exactly what the structure was going to look like, and asked how much maintenance the turbine would require, especially when the Lavallieres were away during the winter.

Nadeau said that maintenance issues would be minimal, and Lorraine Lavalliere added that the turbine had a 20-year guarantee.

After some discussion, the ZBA went with Nadeau's suggestion and granted a continuance until their next meeting on Oct. 27. In the meantime, the board plans to visit the site and would like to see various tests done. They asked that the applicant hire an independent engineer to answer all their technical questions to help them decide if the proposed site is really more efficient than the shoreline site.

Penny Pitou
Martin Lord Osman
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