Now here’s something you don’t hear every day: Did you know that cockroaches survive toad attacks because of a slight wind the toad creates prior to a pounce?
I make note of this in light of wind in general and, more specifically, Bob Crizer’s quest to harness our area’s prevailing northwesterly breezes.
A well-respected builder and designer based out of Los Osos for almost 30 years, Crizer has branched into Crizer Wind Energy Inc. (528-7330), installing rooftop wind turbines, which, until April at least, won’t cost consumers a dime to buy and have installed because of full rebates offered through the California Energy Commission.
Such a deal, eh? Well, there’s a fly in the ointment: The county doesn’t have a planning policy for small, rooftop wind energy machines, thus it can’t issue permits for installation.
The reason the state’s involved in wind energy stems from a bill that state Sen. Sam Blakeslee successfully passed while an assemblyman, AB 45.
One of the provisions of the bill pretty much lays out its intent: “It is the policy of the state to promote and encourage the use of distributed renewable energy systems and to limit obstacles to their use, and it is the intent of the Legislature that local agencies encourage the installation of distributed renewable energy systems by removing obstacles to, and minimizing costs of, permitting distributed renewable energy systems.”
The hang-up, according to a flurry of e-mails between Crizer, Supervisor Bruce Gibson and planning staff, is that the county hasn’t been able to dedicate a planner to writing a wind energy policy.
“Regarding the county,” says Crizer, “they’re working and trying to make this happen. But it’s tough economic times, and they don’t have a lot of staff.”
The rebates will decrease by about 16 percent in early April, although if a system is reserved by April 6, that reservation for a full rebate is good for a year.
Here’s how the rebate system works: Customers bring their electric bill to Crizer (or Corky Canaday of Morro Bay, who’s the only other wind turbine installer in the county) and tell him that they want to offset their electric costs. The bill and request are sent to the CEC, which sends a rebate voucher back to the owner. Then the system is built, and the homeowner signs over the voucher to Bob (or Corky) in lieu of payment for providing and installing the system.
Although the systems look like white, three-bladed pinwheels, and they can’t rise any higher than municipal zoning laws allow, at least one elected official — Morro Bay Mayor Bill Yates — tried to get that city’s council to enact a moratorium on a wind policy based on aesthetics. His proposal died before reaching a vote.
Others who don’t care for wind energy cite noise and/or birds being killed by rotating blades.
As to noise, the rooftop turbines — known as “small wind” — are virtually noiseless. As to the bird issue, migratory birds don’t travel near rooftops, but commercial turbines are a different story.
Known as “community wind,” these are those 160-foot-tall, double-bladed creatures that can be found near Palm Springs and Altamont Pass to name just a couple of locations. These machines can emit a low droning sound and are high enough that if a flock of migrating birds flies in formation through the revolving blades, there can be losses.
Yet the positive aspects of using wind can be financially tangible when selling excess power back to the utilities.
For instance, over the years, Italy has built some 800 community wind turbines and now, through those savings, the country doesn’t pay sales taxes.
“You’re either adding power to the grid or taking it off,” Crizer says. “It’s the difference between consumptive energy and created energy.”
Meanwhile, the April deadline for reduced rebates beckons and, as AB 45 states: “It is the intent of the Legislature to facilitate the implementation of consistent statewide standards to achieve the timely and cost-effective installation of small wind energy systems.”
So is San Luis Obispo County progressing on meeting the bill’s intentions?
“Bruce Gibson is going to do what he can,” Crizer says. “I think he may be able to do more than he thinks he can, but I think the county will move forward as best as it can.”
Now, about those windy, cockroach-chasing toads ...
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.