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Thread: Should community planners be concerned with local energy policy?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Should community planners be concerned with local energy policy?

    Or, can community planners be an effective voice on influencing local energy policy?

    Consider this:
    • Depending on how your state zoning law may be structured, you might need to provide a professional opinion regarding a wind farm proposal.
    • Energy sprawl might already be occurring in your rural communities and might not even know it. Does planting switchgrass for fuel crops count as an industrial use, or is it in fact agriculture?
    • How should solar energy generation be permitted in your community? Does it make sense to allow massive solar array farms, effectively removing all vegetation from the site underneath the arrays?
    • A utility company may want to build a new coal generation facility. Local zoning rules may have an impact on what can or cannot be built at the site. Or you may be challenged to update a Master Plan that may or may not incorporate the utility’s future plans.
    • How do you manage public input during a public hearing on a controversial alternative energy proposal, with vehement Tea-Baggers disavowing the project because of Federal tax incentives and Tree-Huggin-Libs crowing about the need for strategies to reduce carbon emissions, and not to mention the garden variety NIMBYs promising a recall if the project is approved?

    It’s a snowy cold day today. My thoughts may be all over the map, but these are questions I have been asking myself over the past year. Reading your thoughts and experiences would be interesting on this rather slow day here in the office.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wannaplan? View post
    Or, can community planners be an effective voice on influencing local energy policy?

    Itís a snowy cold day today. My thoughts may be all over the map, but these are questions I have been asking myself over the past year. Reading your thoughts and experiences would be interesting on this rather slow day here in the office.
    For the life of me, I'm unable to come up with any reason why community planners wouldn't be concerned with local energy policy. Basic stuff here. AS well as stormwater policy, urban heat island policy, man-made climate change policy...they all affect the built environment and the health and wellbeing of the creatures therein. As well as policy to control conspiracy theorists who disrupt meetings to thwart the democratic process.
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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    It would be interesting to hear from fellow Cyburbians and their direct experiences with local energy policy implementation.

    I've assisted some communities on developing zoning provisions for wind farms. Some of those communities soon saw the successful construction of wind farms that provided energy to the grid. Other communities had negative views on wind, and hence modified those zoning provisions to essentially zone out wind farms.

    Three years in to the current President's term, in which renewables have been heavily promoted, the results have been a mixed bag. Now with what's going on in Iran, what we're hearing from presidential candidates on the cost of gas, and the potential renewal of the PTC for wind, we're now at an interesting crossroads for energy in America.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Wind turbines end up getting reviewed for exceeding the height limit. Solar panels are reviewed more for design and aesthetic purposes to see how they would contribute to roofs, building facades etc.

    As long as you can figure out a way to integrate the energy use into your ordinance, the implementation process follows.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cyke View post
    Wind turbines end up getting reviewed for exceeding the height limit.
    In regards to wind turbines, there's a lot of people out there who have concerns with potential off-site impacts such as shadows and noise. There's also a whole cottage industry out there promoting the infrasound issue.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wannaplan? View post
    Three years in to the current President's term, in which renewables have been heavily promoted, the results have been a mixed bag. Now with what's going on in Iran, what we're hearing from presidential candidates on the cost of gas, and the potential renewal of the PTC for wind, we're now at an interesting crossroads for energy in America.
    We're at a crossroads because fossil fuels continue to be subsidized heavily, and lobbying expenses for carbon-emitting industries are very high. And renewable incentives were allowed to expire. Let gas prices remain high and folks will be screaming for alternatives. Of course that is backwards, but that is human nature.
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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    We're at a crossroads because fossil fuels continue to be subsidized heavily, and lobbying expenses for carbon-emitting industries are very high.
    I know! Around here, I hear the same rhetoric over and over again - "How can I support wind energy when the Federal Government continually subsidizes those companies?!"

    Our state's Public Service Commission (electric utility regulator) recently reported that the average prices of renewable energy contracts is $91/MWh, which is substantially lower than the cost of a new coal-fired plant (about $130/MWh).

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Wannaplan? View post
    In regards to wind turbines, there's a lot of people out there who have concerns with potential off-site impacts such as shadows and noise. There's also a whole cottage industry out there promoting the infrasound issue.
    You're right. I forgot to include that we also review for external effects like shadow flicker and noise. We also regulate the turbines hour's of operation.
    At one meeting, we had an "expert" testify that that shadow flicker is actually beneficial in providing a soothing effect to people that experience it.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Yes, helping research and produce a Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP)

    Discussion and examples at: http://www.transitionmanitou.com/edap.html
    Oddball
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    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wannaplan? View post
    I know! Around here, I hear the same rhetoric over and over again - "How can I support wind energy when the Federal Government continually subsidizes those companies?!"
    .
    When I show these types the standard chart that refutes the talking point, I usually get a change of subject, hand-waving with 'Solyndraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!11one! and a bit of anger at poking a hole in the ideological information delivery channel. ;o)

    My standard line now in my presentations is that worldwide, by 2020 solar should provide ~7% of the electricity, if current " Moore's Law" effects continue. Not sure with wind.
    -------
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    This is a big question I'm asking myself right now. The community I work in is reviewing its commercial wind turbine regulations. A lot of the sentiment right now is that any turbines that would be built will cause a negative impact on nearby neighbours. This might be acceptable if there were benefits to compensate for these impacts, but a number of residents are digging up research (of unknown credibility) that suggests wind turbines do little to actually reduce fossil fuel use (an important supposed benefit). So this whole issue of grid stability and fossil fuel use is way beyond local planning, but it certainly does affect how residents view and accept the land use rules we will develop. Do I allow myself to go down the rabbit hole of examining these bigger questions, or do I ignore that these issues are intertwined and stick to my area of responsibility? For me it's pretty unclear at this point.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hipp5 View post
    a number of residents are digging up research (of unknown credibility) that suggests wind turbines do little to actually reduce fossil fuel use (an important supposed benefit). Do I allow myself to go down the rabbit hole of examining these bigger questions, or do I ignore that these issues are intertwined and stick to my area of responsibility? For me it's pretty unclear at this point.
    Your job is to create a plan and implement it. If you want to analyze all the right-wing op-ed pieces being trotted out as "research" or "evidence", that is up to you. But it should be clear soon that the op-ed pieces used as "evidence" will be all the same, from the same sources. A generation from now, will our descendants trot out the Vonnegut quotation "The good earth! We could have saved it but were to d*mn cheap and lazy." ?
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  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    I'd love it if people here would post the reasons why these myths aren't true.

    Not that I don't believe them, I just want to see the counter arguments!

  14. #14
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by latte thunder View post
    I'd love it if people here would post the reasons why these myths aren't true.

    Not that I don't believe them, I just want to see the counter arguments!
    that suggests wind turbines do little to actually reduce fossil fuel use
    Any megawatt generated not from fossil fuels (or negawatt created, or megawatt avoided) does something to reduce fossil fuel use. Wind generation in the US is increasing close to exponentially (not in 2012, though), with ~45k MW generating just in the US, and ~225k MW globally. Therefore their "argument" is ridiculous on its face. By 2020 if projections hold ~10-13% of all electricity will be generated from renewables so their silly argument is silly. All you have to do is ask them either what fraction is non-fossil or how many kMW are installed now and let them sputter, then give them a figure and ask them if that is a little or big reduction in fossil fuel use.

    At this very moment, I'm taking a break from writing a paper on urban renewable power generation so I may be a tad overstimulated...
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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Power Hungry by Bryce is an interesting book. In it, he asserts that reductions in carbon emissions via the installation of wind farms are negated by the need to ramp up natural gas generators during wind farm downtime (rotors not spinning due to lack of wind). The carbon reductions are negated by the fact that during these downtimes the natural gas genarators have to burn faster to meet base generation demand. This faster rate of combustion releases a higher rate carbon emissions than during nornal gas fired electricity generation.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wannaplan? View post
    Power Hungry by Bryce is an interesting book.
    Yes, please, use that as your only evidence against in a public meeting. Pleasepleasepleaseplease. As soon as you are done with the surface arguments, follow the money and consider half of his premises melt away the millisecond we rid ourselves of our dumb grid. But this requires some knowledge and - like Lomborg's first book - the sheer number of references are enough for some. This is not to say I prefer wind over negawatts and solar and other efficiency gains. This is also to assert the likelihood that GHG-generating (CO2 and perhaps CH4) NG plants are going to be a bridge in the near- and medium-term and we are going to have to change the basic nature of our societies and our behavior to prevent going above 450 ppmv atmospheric CO2.
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  17. #17
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    Yes, please, use that as your only evidence against in a public meeting. Pleasepleasepleaseplease.
    I'm just contributing to the discussion, Planner to Planner. (We're not at a public meeting, just here on the Internets hopefully having a civil discussion, so why don't we keep it real, professional to professional? )

    Back on topic: Your point on the smart grid is a valid one, but as you know, we're a far ways from that reality. I wish there was something I could do as a Planner to make that vision come true, but I am afraid that's a federal funding issue.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wannaplan? View post
    I'm just contributing to the discussion, Planner to Planner. (We're not at a public meeting, just here on the Internets hopefully having a civil discussion, so why don't we keep it real, professional to professional? )

    Back on topic: Your point on the smart grid is a valid one, but as you know, we're a far ways from that reality. I wish there was something I could do as a Planner to make that vision come true, but I am afraid that's a federal funding issue.
    I didn't see anywhere upthread where you personalized the argument, so the response wasn't directed at you - the topic was the depersonalized 'a number of NIMBYs thrashing about for an excuse'. Apologies if I didn't make that clear in my reply. I was quite clear in my mind, maybe not in my typing... :o)

    Nevertheless, the Smart Grid issue is an important one, as around these parts in Boulder, their utility famously Keystone Kopped their test of a smart grid, and then declared it was too expensive to pay for themselves. If we are to drag ourselves into a future of energy descent, we may have to generate some power on-site. That means design guidelines, height regulations, monitoring of nuisance, tree placement regulation and enforcement, new building codes for efficiency and awnings and roof protrusion into setback, street siting for passive solar gain, rain gardens, street design with bioswales, detention basins that have recreation and solar gardens, etc etc etc etc etc etc.
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  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    Your job is to create a plan and implement it.
    That may be. But ultimately the people who make the decisions are the politicians. And those politicians are getting daily phone calls and emails with 400 pages of who-knows-what "evidence" that contradicts the claim that wind turbines reduce fossil fuel use. So one of the main compelling reasons for adopting wind turbines is being challenged, which makes it a really hard sell to those who make the decisions. Do I, as a planner, go down this road that is far removed from planning to respond and challenge these claims, or do I stick to my realm, knowing that in doing so I've probably doomed the possibility of having wind turbines in my community...

  20. #20
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hipp5 View post
    That may be. But ultimately the people who make the decisions are the politicians. And those politicians are getting daily phone calls and emails with 400 pages of who-knows-what "evidence" that contradicts the claim that wind turbines reduce fossil fuel use. So one of the main compelling reasons for adopting wind turbines is being challenged, which makes it a really hard sell to those who make the decisions. Do I, as a planner, go down this road that is far removed from planning to respond and challenge these claims, or do I stick to my realm, knowing that in doing so I've probably doomed the possibility of having wind turbines in my community...
    If you have access, you advise and consent with a working session. Every installed watt of wind avoids fossil fuels. Bring some real empirical evidence and compare it to a, say, Heritage op-ed and explain why these talking points are wrong. If you lose, you lose but you have to give it a shot if this is a battle you want to fight. You can't hit the target if you don't pull the trigger. If you don't want to fight it, you can't engage in every battle, let alone win every one.

    As an aside, my wife and I drove to KC today to speak at a conference, and there was a wind field in central KS popping up south of a large existing field, turning hypnotically in the wind. It's happening now. Local generation is happening in the early-adopting communities. I toured the Vestas nacelle plant, great cleantech manufacturing atmosphere, just the kind of manuf you want. New ordinances can be written - its only zoning. Good luck!
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  21. #21
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    Gas prices could have effect on city planning

    Good Question -
    not sure how high gas prices would have to be for many drivers to take to the sidewalks and start using bus routes.

    knows it takes only a slight rise at the pump for college students to do so. Many do not have cars or jobs, so spending extra money to fill their gas tanks is not an option.

    “They’re like seniors in that way,” he said. “They’re more sensitive to changes and modify their behaviors.”
    Not to mention the working poor - living paycheck to paycheck.

    As mentioned in the aticle - more mixed use development ?
    Oddball
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    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
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    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Local planner involvement is justified in any policy argument that influences the future of the community. Land use and building codes certainly influence energy demand, so why not become interested in the supply side of things as well?

    People make silly assertions about many planning-related topics (e.g., questioning whether luxury apartments will decrease property values of very modest single-family detached houses nearby), so I'm not sure we have a right to expect any policy discussion to be totally rational. Yes, alternative energy might be politically controversial in some areas, but you can talk about what the community thinks about $5 per gallon gasoline and how that might impact daily life without becoming an advocate for any one particular energy solution, can't you?

    As a wise planner mentor told me when I was starting out, planning is like driving a stick shift--always keep in mind how to go back to neutral.

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