Turbines fuel debate in Nanoose Bay

At least one resident doesn’t want to see a rash of waterfront generators

A dispute between neighbours could play a role in the future of alternative energy sources in the Regional District of Nanaimo.

Syd Lee installed a 350-watt turbine on a 5.8 metre (19′) mast in his yard in Beachcomber, Nanoose Bay this summer to maintain a steady supply of electricity to his ham radio — emergency communications equipment in the case of a power disruption.

He said he had his property surveyed and installed the mast a meter above the high-tide mark, on his property where there is the most steady wind, which an expert at an RDN workshop said was the most important factor.

He said all the neighbours he contacted supported the installation but once it was up, his immediate neighbour Andy Lankester complained to the RDN, who informed Lee that it was in fact 14 metres closer to the water than the zoning bylaw allowed.

Lee applied to the board of variance, but as RDN manager of current planning Jeremy Holme explained, “they are only allowed to consider variances based on hardship or very minor variances. They could consider an inch, or maybe a foot, but definitely not 14 metres,” Lee told The NEWS.

Despite 15 letters of support and only Lankester speaking against the generator, the board of variance rejected the application determining it should be taken down. Lee then applied for a development variance permit from the electoral area planning committee, which will review the issue on Nov. 12. Their recommendation will be sent on to the regular RDN board for consideration at their Nov. 29 regular meeting.

“I have no problem with the creation of electricity by way of wind or solar, in fact I am in support of it,” Lankester told The NEWS by e-mail.

“The problem is that he installed the mechanical, industrial looking device, one meter from the high tide line in our little community…” he said explaining he’s worried about decreasing property values from the noise and unsightly device.

He’s also worried the precedent will lead to many wind generators on the waterfront.

The RDN’s Holme said a flag pole in that location would be exempt under the current bylaw, but since it was passed in 1987 there is no accounting for things like alternative energy generation.

“Bylaws are a bit of a blunt instrument, one size fits all, they don’t take into account specific cases or how things change over time,” Holme said.

He added that things change, including technology, social norms, demographics and economics and the variance process is how they are dealt with.

He said a variance would not lead to any kind of legal precedent, but that if they do see a lot of applications for a certain type of variance (he gave the example of building height in a specific neighbourhood), they may review the bylaw.

He said every case is considered by the RDN board based on it’s own merits and they are allowed to consider all factors.

Lee said the RDN “is very supportive of this, but their hands are tied. The RDN is actively promoting ‘green’ energy with grants and workshops and flyers, but it’s hard to instal them legally.”

He stressed the point of the wind power generator, along with existing solar panels on his roof, is to support his communication equipment “to help my fellow residents,” as a member of the Oceanside Emergency Communications Team of volunteers that works with the RDN and local municipalities.

He added the generator will not save him any money estimating the total cost of the installation at $16,000 which will save him pennies a day at most.

Lankester said he will continue to state his opposition at the next stage because he’s worried “that a dangerous precedent will be set,” and to convince the board “that this is a bad deal for every person who owns waterfront property inside the RDN.”

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