Wind turbine grounded

Robert Guptill's wind turbine lies at rest as he waits for the Lampasas City Council to approve his request for a special use permit. Guptill has tried for four years to get the city to allow it on his property.

Courtesy photo

LAMPASAS — Robert Guptill had the wind blown out of his sails earlier this month when the City Council turned down his request for a specific use permit to allow a wind turbine on his property.

Guptill has tried for four years to get the council’s approval for the project, which was rejected because of its height. At 43 feet, it’s eight feet higher than the city ordinance allows.

Last year, the council approved the permit when Guptill promised the wind turbine would stand no higher than 35 feet. But the city redrew its approval when Guptill later asked for a variance for additional height, Councilman Chris Harrison said.

“It’s not that I’m against it, but there’s an awful lot of history that goes along with this,” Harrison said. “When I made the motion to approve this last year, I asked (Guptill) 12 to 14 times if the overall height would stay within the guidelines of the (permit) at 35 feet, and he said yes.

“The next day, he went to the city’s zoning board of adjustments and asked for a variance for the additional height, and that’s not staying within the requirement we granted.”

The debate is over how the height measurement should be taken — from the ground to the center of the turbine rotor or from the ground to the tips of the 8-foot blades.

Harrison said he uses one, simple example to describe the height issue. “If someone asks me how tall I am, I say I am 6 feet tall. That’s not from the ground to my shoulders but to the top of my head.”

The planning and zoning commission approved the permit March 7, noting the turbine’s height from the ground to the center of the rotor was 34 feet and compliant with the city ordinance. However, the council did not take the commission’s recommendation to approve the permit.

After receiving preliminary approval last year, Guptill invested more money into the turbine project, such as pouring a concrete foundation and cutting 8 feet off the turbine tower to make it more compatible with the city ordinance, he said.

Guptill was reluctant to provide exact numbers for his expenses so far, but estimated he’s paid “in the thousands of dollars.”

“The crux of the whole thing is, I have compromised, paid a lot of money and I have received approval, but it still hasn’t gone through the final step,” he said.

Guptill said his main goal is to save money, as the wind turbine unit could cut his energy costs from $320 per month in the summer to about $100.

“As a resident, the only choice you have is to use Lampasas utilities,” he said. “As a couple on a fixed income, my wife and I noticed the cost of our electricity was a major expenditure, and we wanted to reduce that expense.”

Harrison said he would like to continue working with Guptill until a satisfactory resolution is found. “The way our ordinance is right now, it leaves too much to assumption,” he said. “Once we pass this revised ordinance, then we have to live with it for the duration. … We need to stay consistent and not do something special for one person that we can’t do for others.”

Lampasas City Manager Finley deGraffenried has worked with many people on both sides of the issue, he said. He believes the council’s intent is to revise the current ordinance.

“We know the ordinance is not very clear, by definition, in terms of height,” deGraffenried said. “In addition to that, there are safety concerns in it being too low, so we have to meet both minimum and maximum height restrictions. I think this has left us with the question — do we need to re-craft that ordinance?”

In the meantime, Guptill plans to persevere in his quest to install and operate the wind turbine he purchased.

“I am confident that clear heads will eventually rule out,” he said. “If we are intelligent, civilized people we should be able to sit down and talk out our differences.”

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