Bills to clear energy hurdles finding support

Two bills that would help renewable energy systems become more commonplace in Delaware neighborhoods are moving quickly through the General Assembly.

The first bill (House Substitute 1 for House Bill 70), sponsored by State Rep. Bill Oberle (R-Beecher’s Lot), would prevent local governments and homeowner associations from adopting any measures restricting the installation of wind turbines.

The measure covers both roof- and tower-mounted turbines and includes provisions regulating noise and the protection of historic areas.

In a move to make the bill palatable enough for passage, any existing ordinances or covenants limiting wind turbines would still be enforceable. Oberle said he was disappointed to make the concession.

“If I had my druthers, it would apply retroactively,” he said. “I am a strong believer and proponent of passive energy generation. I think we need to promote that [and] we need to encourage it to relieve our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels. This is a step in the right direction.”

Former Georgetown mayor and current State Rep. Joe Booth (R-Georgetown) said that, despite the bill’s noble goal, he was uncomfortable with the state usurping local control. He said local governments give citizens the best opportunity to offer their input on projects affecting their neighborhoods.

“I believe to have this bill as the catch-all problem solver… – even for something as worthy as this – will cause problems at the local level,” he said.

Booth was one of 14 state representatives to vote against the bill, but the measure still cleared the House with 25 votes and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the makers of small wind turbines have seen their market grow significantly in the last 10 years. The market for small wind equipment is expected to grow up to 20 percent annually through 2010. The AWEA says the U.S. is the leading producer of small wind turbines, the vast majority of which are manufactured domestically.

Meanwhile, a companion bill (Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 49) is heading to the House after being approved unanimously in the Senate. That measure, sponsored by State Sen. Dave McBride (D-Hawk’s Nest), would facilitate the use of rooftop solar panels on private homes by limiting the use of covenants or other restrictions. Like the wind-turbine legislation, restrictions in place prior to the bill becoming effective would not be impacted by the legislation.

“Solar power is abundant and usually available on our hottest days when energy demand is the greatest,” McBride said. “Giving our citizens this option will not only lower their bills, but it can let them help their neighbors by putting their extra power onto the grid.”