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Twisting in the wind August 23, 2009

Posted by Laura Arnold in Uncategorized.
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Company says lack of clear wind energy policies causing customers to worry

Bowdeya Tweh – bowdeya.tweh@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 | Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009 12:00 am

The owner of a Northwest Indiana firm selling residential wind energy systems says he is having problems with Lake and Porter County officials because there’s confusion on policies determining what residents must do before activating them.

George Kontol Jr. of DeMotte-based Northwest Geothermal Inc. said times have been difficult for his company that sells and installs geothermal and wind generation systems, including its 30-foot high, 1,100-pound Windspire product.

Nicholas Serena, who lives a few miles northeast of Lowell, isn’t able to use the Windspire installed at his farm in April because Lake County officials have told him that he doesn’t have the appropriate permits or variances out to use it. Serena, a sales representative for the business through his firm Pleasant Grove Windworks, said when he called the county Plan Commission four months ago to ask what was required before installing the tower, he was told nothing was required.

Now, Serena said he and his lawyer plan to work with the county to see what is required. Serena said he’s losing money on the $14,000 purchase because it’s off and would like to get the system running within a couple of months.

Kontol said he wants to abide by county standards in his business and he’s had easier times taking out permits in Lafayette and Indianapolis. He said a Porter County resident purchased the system as well, but a county official advised him to wait before using it until a wind energy policy could be developed.

“They’re all being punished for wanting to be sustainable,” Kontol said. “The utility companies want to charge you outrageous rates. The counties don’t want to give you permits. There’s no reason why we should be punished as consumers.”

In Lake County

Lake County Plan Commission Director Ned Kovachevich said in a June 1 letter to Serena that he violated county ordinances by not requesting a permit for a “wind-powered cylindrical structure” and for the businesses not having a contractor’s license in unincorporated Lake County to make or install electrical connections for wind-generating structures.

Kovachevich said permits and variances give the county an opportunity to make sure structures are safe and meet code requirements.

At a Wednesday meeting, Kovachevich said the Plan Commission decided to have staff gather and report information in September or October to determine if there is further regulation needed for wind-generating structures.

Issues will be handled as individuals approach the county for now, Kovachevich said. Wind-generating structures may require people to apply for a variance for a structure’s height, bulk or area and another variance allowing the structure to be placed in an area where current zoning may not allow it.

In Porter County

Porter County Planning Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said he hopes the county will have an ordinance in place dealing with small or single-site wind energy developments, but said a committee is still reviewing the impact they may have on communities.

The issue is expected to be on the commission’s September meeting agenda.

Thompson said discussion on a wind energy ordinance was tabled in a meeting earlier this month to have more research done. Some issues raised include where the distribution system for a large wind energy development would be located and how would the energy be added to the current electrical grid, Thompson said.

For the time being, Thompson said the county has directed people to apply for a variance through the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals and the process could take one or two months.

Windspires everywhere?

Kontol says he can’t understand why the counties aren’t more supportive of wind generation systems when the federal government supports it. A 30 percent federal tax credit is available for residents after having residential wind energy systems installed on their property, according to the U.S. Energy Star program Web site. The maximum generator output must be less than 100 kilowatts to qualify and the Windspire product meets this standard. The credit is on the cost of the system and must be placed in service by 2016.

Serena said the Windspire will pay for itself in six years, but people need to be relieved of the worries that they could pay for a device they can’t use.

“It has definitely made people hesitant,” Serena said. “We’re educating people who don’t know this technology and what it could bring for the future. I could see … windspires all over the place, but we have to get it out there and get the knowledge out there to people work(ing) with it.”

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