County Eases Rules For Wind Farm Testing - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

County Eases Rules For Wind Farm Testing

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to make it easier for energy firms to test for suitability for wind turbines in rural areas.

Before today's vote, firms were required to get a major use permit to install a tower high enough to conduct needed tests. And, according to county officials, simply collecting the required information for permit can cost up to $100,000. A public hearing before the planning commission is also required.

The vote means that firms need to apply for a less stringent "administrative permit," which does not require a public hearing. That permit will enable testing for up the three years. Wind energy representative said the test poles for collection wind data are less than 200 feet tall and about six inches in diameter -- similar to a ham radio antenna.

In a related issue, an environmental study associated with the county's current wind-turbine regulations for homeowners, small businesses and farms could cost the county $150,000 to $350,000, said Vice-Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price, who asked county staffers to look for a grants that could cover the cost.

Donna Tisdale, who chairs the Boulevard Community Planning Group, told the board that wind turbines destroy her area's rural atmosphere and decreases the values of homes there.

Tisdale said the towers could pose a hazard to helicopter pilots.

"Do not put our helicopter pilots at risk," she said.

Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said she rarely voted against the recommendations of the planning groups in her district.

"It's a beautiful area and I don't necessarily want to see it blighted with wind turbines," she said. "But these are just testing facilities, and we'll see if it makes sense or not."

Jacob also suggested that the county not get "blown away by the wind."

She also wants the county to look into harvesting solar power.

Opponents like Tisdale fear that making the testing process easier brings the county a step closer to hosting more wind farms.

Debra Kelley of the local chapter of the American Lung Association spoke in support of wind energy.

"We want policies that will support renewable energy," Kelley said, adding that wind turbines do not produce air pollution, like coal or gas-fired electricity plants.

A San Diego Gas & Electric representative also voiced support. The company is under a state mandate to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2010.

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