County to look into small wind system electrical fitness

The county’s Department of Planning and Development Services along with other county departments may be working with the wind energy industry and other stakeholders regarding field engineering study requirements for small systems.

The issue surfaced during the Oct. 19 meeting of the county’s Planning Commission, which included clean-up action on the July 20 Planning Commission recommendation to amend the wind energy section of the county’s zoning ordinance. Although most of those clean-up items were specific to the Tule Wind project in Boulevard, Doug Hacker of Double H Windpower in Borrego took advantage of the public comment portion to address the engineering study requirement for an electrical and mechanical inspection.

Double H Windpower sells and installs small vertical axis turbines. The cost of a turbine system itself is under $10,000, but his clients have been required to undergo an electrical and mechanical inspection which costs between $2,500 and $4,500. “It’s a rather large amount to tack on,” Hacker said.

Department of Planning and Development Services deputy director Jeff Murphy explained that field engineering studies are required for electrical components which do not have Underwriters Laboratories approval. Murphy commented that the UL rating is a national standard, so the county accepts the UL approval if the component has it. “This is reserved for that equipment that doesn’t have that,” Murphy said of the field engineering study.

The county itself does not perform the field engineering study; an independent contractor conducts the testing and provides the county with the test results.

“It’s fairly involved,” said Planning Commissioner David Pallinger. “It is kind of a big deal and it is expensive.”

Hacker indicated that his products have UL ratings, although Planning Commissioner Peder Norby suggested that some components might have UL approval while other components lack that standard. “In emerging technology this is quite common,” Norby said.

The Planning Commission approved the clean-up amendments but did not take specific action on the issue of field engineering studies. The development of the wind ordinance amendments was intended to create a two-tiered system under which large systems utilized for commercial sale will be subject to the discretionary permit process and have more restrictions than small systems intended for individual residential, business, or farm use.

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