OURAY COUNTY – A 66-foot high tower on the Cornerstone golf development, and no one objected?
That was the scenario Tuesday, as the Ouray Board of County Commissioners (meeting as the Board of Zoning Adjustment) approved a variance for a 20-meter tower in the Alpine Zone on the north side of Horsefly Peak, where the Land Use Code stipulates building heights of no more than 35 feet.
The circumstances were “extraordinary and exceptional,” however, said County Planning Technician Brian Sampson, in a staff review before the commissioners. The tower in question belongs to a program called ALP, Anemometer Loan Program, a wind-speed monitoring program jointly sponsored by Colorado State University, the Governor’s Energy Office, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America program.
The wind-speed and direction instrument, the anemometer, will be in place for just one year, and the information gleaned (available to the public at HYPERLINK "http://www.engr.colostate.edu/ALP" www.engr.colostate.edu/ALP), according to Commissioner Lynn Padgett, is definitely in the county’s best interests. “The program provides objective information,” she wrote in a background letter to county staff (and the public), “geared toward wind developers, potential ALP program participants, and small-scale wind aficionados who might be ready to install or design an on-site wind power generation pole and turbine.” In other words, anyone interested in determining whether a certain microclimate or area of the county could support wind-generated electricity.
And, to be clear, the ALP tower is a single, slim, stand-up pole, to be erected by CSU engineering students.
This will be the third placement of an ALP tower in the county in the last three years. The first was at the County Fairgrounds and 4H Event Center in Ridgway. As Padgett wrote, “This facility is expensive to heat, cool, and power; so this [wind turbine option] was viewed as a potential way to lower the overhead costs of that facility. Prior to investing a lot of resources into designing and installing a wind system, the County, led by the Facilities and Maintenance Department, BOCC, and Administration, participated in the ALP in order to get objective and empirical data in order to 1) determine the viability of such a project; 2) determine the likely cost-benefit of such a project; and 3) determine the optimum height and size, make, model of turbine for this specific situation.”
But, in the end, data from the anemometer showed that the valley floor in that location was not windy enough for sustained periods to support even a small-scale wind turbine, and the idea was dropped. Thanks to the ALP, Padgett said, no public money was spent on a project that would not “reap justifiable cost-benefit for the county and the taxpayers.”
To sample a different location, the ALP moved next to the High Mesa Zone, to a property on Log Hill Mesa on Busted Boiler Lane. (The property belongs to Padgett.) This site (statewide No. 79) revealed considerably better wind potential, Padgett reported. But it also revealed what the commissioner called “bipolarism” in the county’s attitude toward wind power.
On the one hand, she said, “We offer incentives for alternative energy development. But we make it very hard for people to get permits for alternative energy wind towers.”
Case in point, the need to go through the county’s building permit variance procedure, including a public hearing, to get an exception to the 35-foot structure height requirement.
Commission Chair Heidi Albritton reiterated the “exceptional” nature of the ALP request, which will place the tower, for another year, on a lot in the Cornerstone development. “This is scientific research,” Albritton said, “not a typical variance. Cornerstone is not asking for something for their own development. This approval would provide a public benefit.”
The other two commissioners agreed, and the vote to approve was unanimous. Though Padgett continued to stress the need to revisit the requirements of the Land Use Code where she sees “obstacles” for small, off-the-grid builders who may in future want to have their own on-site wind generation.
Cornerstone’s Project Manager Brian Wallin was asked if anyone had objected to the tower. He said no.
Albritton: “So, Cornerstone is obviously OK with this?”
Wallin said that he felt the Cornerstone property was a potential “goldmine” of wind data. “The wind does seem to whistle through there, on the north side of Horsefly,” he said.
Padgett: “You may be able to use the data yourself, for possible future wind generation.”
Planner Brian Sampson: “Yeah, and for your golf game.”