Windmills are an interesting and challenging frontier in environmental regulation, as this story from the New York Times suggests. This fellow Michael Mercurio, who’s in the windmill business, put one up on his Cape Cod property and is now fighting tooth and nail with his neighbours:
Some of his neighbors say it is also annoying. They say it is too big. They say it is too noisy. And some residents in this middle-class borough on Long Beach Island have gone to court to try to make him take it down, while the township has stilled it since winter.
“I don’t understand why they are against this[,” Mercurio says, “]I really don’t.”
Maybe because, as Mr. Mercurio’s neighbors Patricia Caplicki and John Miller say in the lawsuit, in a 14-mile-per-hour wind, the three fiberglass blades produce noise greater than 50 decibels, the rough equivalent of light traffic or a noisy refrigerator.
The suit also says that the spinning blades throw “strobe-like shadows” on their property from noon to sunset.
According to the Times, the windmill and additional solar panels cut Mercurio’s electricity and gas bills from something like $4,000 a year to $114, suggesting it’s a significant environmental improvement. This kind of distributed, consumer-controlled generation is a good thing because of that, because it means individuals are taking responsibility for linking their consumption to where power comes from, and because it means a more resilient generation system overall.
That said, I can understand somebody not wanting a 35-foot-high windmill looming over his or her yard, particularly if the business about the strobe effect is true, and I don’t imagine it’d be pleasant to inhabit a neighbourhood forested with them. It’s not that it’s unpleasant to look at, but that it has a deleterious effect on the neighbours whether they look at it or not.
Lots of harmless property improvements — solar-powered water heaters, say, or new kinds of insulation — are effectively forbidden under zoning codes because they’re not specifically permitted, and without official standards, they can’t be inspected. This is dangerously silly; if I want to stick some panels on the roof of my house, that’s nobody’s business but mine, and perhaps my insurance company’s.
In cases such as Mr. Mercurio’s, though, there’s doubtless a role for the local government in setting limits on what you can do that affects other people’s enjoyment of their property. If you couldn’t put up an antenna or an advertisement that does certain things, you probably shouldn’t be treated different just because your goal is environmental rather than commercial.