Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fall Zones & the Issue of Consistency

For obvious reasons, the fall zone for a wind turbine or met tower is an important concern for all stakeholders. The fall zone is defined to approximate the area around the base of the turbine that would likely receive the tower and turbine, or the met tower, if it were to fall. It is often set by local ordinance to be 1 or perhaps 1.25 times the height of the turbine.

Some years ago we were working with Upper Cape Tech Vocational Technical School, discussing the installation of a 660 kW turbine. Unfortunately, the only reasonable location for the turbine placed the fall zone too close to a neighbor's woods. It was OK with the neighbor that the fall zone include part of his woods, but it was not OK with the state funding agency. That was the end of the project.

In the past year this issue was rejoined for a project in Falmouth. The owner was proposing to install a GE 1.5mW turbine that would have a fall zone overlapping a neighbor's property. Again the neighbor was prepared to sign a document granting the right for the turbine to fall on his again unused property. This time the funding was private, so the discussion continued in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals for the town. The Board insisted that the neighbor write a codicil into his deed indicating that the fall zone would include this certain part of his property. The Board also pushed hard that the owner locate the wind turbine closer to his own building and further from the neighboring property, minimizing the overlap onto the neighbor’s property. All parties cooperated and the building permit was granted.

This perhaps demonstrates that some governmental bodies can be more legalistic and bureaucratic than others, and that time and the right circumstances can help in establishing a workable precedent among agreeable parties.

Now consider also that the are no fall zone restrictions for cell towers, per the Telecommunications Act of 1996 ( On one hand this would seem to indicate that an unfair hand has been dealt to wind turbine developers. By that I mean to point out that fall zone restrictions represent one of a number of means by which those against change can prevent wind turbine installations in a town.

On the other hand, those against cell towers (for example, ( would argue that the Federal government, or perhaps the mis-interpretations commonly given to Federal law, give the cell phone developers an unfair advantage over local people who do not want a cell tower looming over their house or their property. Mike M. at the above address argues that allowing cell tower owners to do this represents a taking of property without proper compensation, a violation of the 5th Amendment.

I do not know enough about law to be able to write a cogent opinion about Mike's arguement. However, I know from experience that it is problematic finding adequate space for a fall zone on densely built-up property in such places as Massachusetts. I also think that consenting parties ought to be allowed to work out reasonable accommodations with each other. (That does not mean that the health and safety of children in a school should be threatened by a neighbor's wind turbine.) It is also important for our country that renewable energy be supported and fostered. Thus, it may be reasonable and desirable that state or national authorities establish restrictions on local fall zone bylaws. The fall zone bylaws for wind turbines, and certainly for meteorological towers, should not be dramatically more strict than for cell towers.

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