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Viability, height likely to halt windmill request

TAMPA — Charlie Miranda has become well-known around City Hall for his water-saving showers. He sprays down, shuts off the water, soaps up, rinses off and is done — all in the interest of conservation and keeping his water bill at about $5 a month.

"I'm a good steward of the earth and dollar," Miranda says proudly.

He once employed solar panels and now uses reflective paint to save on his electric bill, which he puts into the public record along with his utility bill.

So no one was surprised in June when Miranda asked city zoning staff if he could build a windmill for energy generation at his modest West Tampa home.

"I brought up the windmill thing to see how high in the city (a windmill) can go," Miranda said.

As it turns out, not high enough.

A report due to the council today concludes that the tower would need to be 65 feet tall, and very few places in the city allow that height.

No cities in Florida regulate windmills, though Allentown and Indian River County are looking at the issue, according to an internal memo from urban designer Loralee Morrow to the city's development coordination manager.

She also notes that a Fort Lauderdale homeowner argued for his right to install a windmill using a state statute that requires cities to accommodate any reasonable request for installation of renewable energy sources.

Regardless, small wind power isn't a good bet for Miranda's neighborhood.

The turbines generally need an acre of open land in a place with good sustained winds to be effective, said Ron Stimmel, an advocate for small wind systems for the American Wind Energy Association.

That means they rarely work in urban settings, where trees and roof lines disrupt the wind.

And in general, Florida doesn't have enough sustained winds for small wind power.

"It's all about resources," he said.

Those are most abundant in the Great Plains and New England, Stimmel said.

"There could be pockets in Florida that are a lot better than others," he said. "It comes down to the land features in your neighborhood. It's done very much on a case by case basis."

Going tall can overcome problems with urban obstacles.

"You may not be able to move a hill from here to there, but you can always get a taller tower if your local zoning allows it," Stimmel said.

Miranda said he isn't likely to take the issue any further than the request for information.

"If it was feasible, I would do it," he said. "After I read that thing from the city, I don't know if it's viable."

But Miranda will continue taking steps that make sense for environmental, financial and philosophical reasons.

In the past year, he has made his 1,500-square-foot home more energy-efficient with beefed-up roof insulation, double-paned windows and newly sealed doors.

He doesn't water his lawn, uses mulch made of recycled tires and is getting ready to set up cisterns to catch rain water for thirsty plants.

For decades he had solar panels on his roof, but those came down when he had his home re-roofed five years ago.

He's waiting for the price of solar panels to drop before he puts new ones up.

"I don't like to be an elected official and talk about what the public should do if I'm not going to do it myself," he said.

He said he'd like to see the city offer financial incentives to people who install solar systems at their homes.

"You could help the environment and help yourself by putting on that solar panel and using less fossil fuel and lowering your bill for electricity," Miranda said. "I'm trying to think a little ahead so we can all enjoy this great world a little longer."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Viability, height likely to halt windmill request 08/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 3:22pm]
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