Backyard windmills

    State and federal governments are encouraging property owners to give windmill a whirl.

    Backyard windmills are sprouting across New Jersey. The lure: cheap electricity. State and federal governments are encouraging property owners to give wind energy a whirl. But some local governments are saying: Not so fast. From WHYY’s health and science desk, Kerry Grens has more.



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    It’s not ugly. It’s not loud. And it’s kinda neat to look at, really.

    Bob Olivio gazes proudly at his 45-foot-tall wind mill, as it spins in a 10 mile-an-hour breeze. The turbine has open access to the winds that zoom across Olivio’s back patio on Delaware Bay in Lower Township. Olivio says the windmill produces about 80 percent of his electricity.

    Olivio: I run this entire house on about $500 a year. Which is amazing. That’s 2 air conditioners, swimming pool in the summertime, five refrigerators.

    Olivio used to spend thousands a year on power. He installed his windmill two years ago for about 16,000 dollars, then got a $8,000 state rebate. So he figures he’s nearly recouped the cost of his investment.

    Hunter: So this is the general area of where we’re thinking of putting the windmill back here.

    In Winslow Township, David Hunter and his wife Margaret would like to do the same as Bob Olivio. Their house sits at the end of a cul-de-sac in a newer development. The yard is bordered by woods on one side and fields on another. After watching their patio furniture and trash cans get blown around the yard, they applied for a permit to erect a wind mill. But they were denied and told to appeal for a variance.

    I was actually really surprised. Just with the way the BPU pushes them for power generation, the way the electricity grid in New Jersey is in poor quality, and just the push from the State Senate I thought it would be a sure, go ahead, yes, definitely.

    Hunter’s referring to the state Board of Public Utilities, which offers those rebates on wind power. And to a bill that recently passed the state Senate declaring residential wind mills “inherently beneficial” – thereby lumping them with hospitals and schools and encouraging zoning boards to approve them. The federal government has also started offering a 30 percent rebate on installing wind systems. But in New Jersey, backyard windmills are new territory for zoning boards. Joe Gallagher oversees these issues for Winslow Township.

    Gallagher: We’re going to review our ordinances to make sure that they can easily deal with any new applications or things that are coming up in the renewable energy arena.

    Gallagher says Winslow officials support wind mills, and he expects the Hunters will be able to get that variance. But in addition to paying for permits, the Hunters will also have to file notices to their neighbors. A procedure that could stir up considerable opposition.

    Beck: There’s issues such as noise. Safety factor, both from the entire structure falling or a piece of the blade breaking off.

    That’s Lower Township’s mayor, Michael Beck. Public opposition to a 116-foot windmill proposal in Lower prompted the town council to pull its ordinance allowing wind mills — the same ordinance that Bob Olivio used to erect his wind mill.

    Our existing ordinance was inadequate for the green revolution, if you want to use that term, that we were being faced with situations involving technology that our ordinance really could not cover.

    Beck says council should have a new ordinance in place within two months. The Board of Public Utilities has developed a model ordinance to help towns adopt favorable rules – but BPU has no authority to enforce it. Some towns have decided to tilt at windmills – changing their rules to make it harder to build them. Wayne, for example, decided last year to require wind mills to be 500 meters from residential neighborhoods. Brick Township banned them from residential areas. Hillsborough requires a 10-acre lot. Still, other towns like Maurice Township, have granted residents approval for wind mills. And the Hunters hope to be the first in Winslow.

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