Going with the wind?
Some generate more energy than others. Some are much bigger than others. Some might make more noise than others. Some might be more dangerous to birds than others.
These are factors that are expected to come into play as the Port Aransas Planning and Zoning Commission meets on Monday, Jan. 25, to take a first look at the possibility of changing city codes to allow wind turbines to be erected in town.
The meeting will be at 3 p.m. at the Port Aransas City Council chambers, at city hall, 710 W. Avenue A.
The commission doesn’t have the power to change city codes. That ability lies with the council, which considered the wind energy issue on Thursday, Nov. 19, and referred the matter to the commission for study and a recommendation.
When all is said and done, the commission could end up recommending that the council not allow turbines in Port Aransas, or the recommendation could be that the machines be allowed, under a given set of rules.
Corder said she expects representatives of one or two wind turbine manufacturers to appear at the commission meeting and likely speak in favor of allowing turbines. But it’s important that ordinary Port Aransans also show up to voice their opinions, she said.
Some believe wind turbines could significantly change what Port Aransas looks like and sounds like.
“I think the citizens need to speak up,” Corder said. “I truly think it’s very, very important for them to say whether they want (turbines) or not.”
Corder said she hasn’t made up her mind yet on whether turbines would be a good idea. She said she wants to hear arguments on both sides of the issue before making up her mind.
No one has proposed building a wind farm in Port Aransas, but four local merchants have expressed an interest in erecting turbines to help power their own businesses, said Dave Parsons, interim city manager.
Proponents have said wind energy turbines are clean energy sources that could go a long way toward cutting electric bills. That could go for both businesses and residences.
Some have expressed concerns that turbines could be unsightly, cause annoying noise and injure or kill birds if they fly into the machinery.
Corder said she would like to see manufacturers temporarily set up a few different kinds of wind turbines in Port Aransas as a demonstration to show what they would look like and sound like.
Corpus Christi has passed an ordinance allowing residences and businesses to set up turbines, under certain conditions. One of those conditions is that there be plenty of open space around the turbine in case it falls. Another condition: Turbines may not violate the city’s noise ordinance.
Johnny O’Neal has had a Skystream brand turbine set up and working on his property in Corpus Christi for about 13 months. He is an investor and salesman with Alternative Renewable Energy, which sells wind turbines.
O’Neal said the turbine is about 38 feet high, including the blades, and it can save him up to one-third on his electric bills on windy months.
One of O’Neal’s neighbors, Cheryl Hooper, said O’Neal’s turbine is noisy for hours on end when the wind is blowing out of the southeast.
“It sounds like there are police sirens going up and down your street in the distance,” Hooper said. “It can just make you insane.”
O’Neal hasn’t been cited for any noise violations. He said his unit produces about 60 decibels on windy days. That’s slightly less noisy than an outdoor unit for a central air conditioning system, he said.
“Most people find it non-objectionable,” O’Neal said.
Coastal Wind & Energy Solutions Inc. offers turbines that emit noise that never rises to more than 32 decibels, according to the Corpus Christi company’s president, Byron Loftin.
Certain wind turbines used for individual homes and businesses can operate “whisper quiet,” Loftin said.
Some folks worry that wind turbines could hurt or kill birds in Port Aransas, which lies in a flight path for migratory species. Then there are the other species of birds that live in town year-round.
The huge turbines in wind farms have been blamed for bird deaths. A conservative estimate of 4,700 birds have been killed annually at a big wind farm in California, according to a story in USA Today.
Turbines that serve homes and individual businesses are smaller, lower to the ground and aren’t anywhere near as deadly, manufacturers say.
With many residentially oriented turbines, “all the research says there is zero, zip, not even one incident of bird problems,” said Tracy Long, who represents a company called Alternative Renewable Energy.
O’Neal said he hasn’t seen signs that his turbine has hurt any birds.
Port Aransas birding expert Nan Dietert said any structure that juts into the air is a hazard for birds. Birds commonly run into power lines and die, said Dietert, who, with her husband, Lyndon Holcomb, lead birding tours for the city and Elderhostel and pen a birding column for the South Jetty. A wind energy contraption would be just one more object for birds to run into, she said.
But Dietert mentioned no plans to oppose wind turbines in Port Aransas. She questioned whether Port Aransas really would end up sprouting that many turbines even if they eventually are allowed. She said many birds tend to avoid populated areas anyway.
And, Dietert said, “I think we’re growing as a society, demanding more and more electricity, and I think (wind energy) is one of the solutions. It’s inevitable. We need to be free of some of this oil pinch.”
While wind energy units on wind farms might be 300 feet high, the kinds mounted for use at homes and businesses might be as small as 8.5 feet wide and 4.5 feet high, Loftin said.
Loftin said the kinds of turbines he deals can generate 600 watts to 12 kilowatts per hour. How much that will help you with your electrical bill depends on how much energy you consume.
Corder said she can’t help but worry about the possibility of noise nuisances.
“I’m for green energy,” Corder said. “But when I think of all these little things twirling all over town and (effects of) the salt air, eventually I think they could be extremely noisy.”
Corder pointed out that birds are important not just to the ecology but also to the Port Aransas economy. For that reason and others, she said, Port Aransans need to take a good look at the merit of arguments against wind energy.
Birding “is a huge part of our ecotourism,” Corder said. “I think we need to know for sure whether wind energy is good for us and not just take someone’s word for it who is selling these things.”