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Planners Urge Wind Awareness  

“Again, we reiterate the need for the planning commission and board of supervisors to draft an amendment to comprehensive plan, and possibly even zoning ordinance amendments, stating the county’s position with regard to wind development in Highland. That may include no wind energy development at all (small or large), small wind only, or a combination of some small wind and a limited number of large wind facilities. It may include designating wind development zones and excluding certain zones/areas or simply setting a base level criteria."

After months of work on
wind energy at the request of county supervisors,
the Central Shenandoah Planning District
Commission officially put the ball directly
into Highland’s court last week.
CSPDC turned over all information and
recommendations it has found to supervisors
and planners, telling them the county ought to
resolve where its community stands on wind
energy development within its borders – starting

CSPDC senior planner Darryl Crawford
presented planning commission members and
supervisors with a 20-page list of things to consider
should an application for conditional use
permits or zoning changes from a wind energy
developer be made now or in the future.
The CSPDC is beginning to revise data for
Highland’s comprehensive plan. “While we’re
doing research for the plan,” Crawford told
Highland officials, “you should go ahead and
address where the county stands on wind.” He
read from the text of the CSPDC document,
saying, “It has become evident over the last
few years that Highland County has excellent
wind resources. There may even be some economic
value to the county and its citizens. At
the request of the Highland County Board of
Supervisors, our office has spent the last six
months studying various issues related to wind
energy development throughout the United

“Our research has been centered upon
large-scale wind projects due to the possibility
for such a project to be brought forward at
some point. We have not examined small-scale
wind other than to demonstrate the differences
between ‘small wind’ and ‘large wind,’” he

Facing the possibility of a permit request
from Highland New Wind Development, LLC,
a wind development company owned by the
McBride family of Harrisonburg, supervisors
had asked the CSPDC to assess the potential
tax benefits. Crawford was lead researcher, and
presented findings April 29 at an informational
hearing in Monterey.

Crawford reminded planners last week that
the SCC does not yet know how it will value
turbines and may not decide until it’s presented
with an actual case. In any case, “revenue issues
should be handled separately from land
use,” he said.

“From a land use standpoint, this is an important
issue and can have effects for many
years to come,” Crawford continued. “We feel
that it would be prudent for the Highland
County Planning Commission and Highland
County Board of Supervisors to work together
with the community to draft a comprehensive
plan amendment stating the county’s position
on wind energy development (small and large)
in Highland.

“The comprehensive plan amendment
should state clearly, and up front, if there are
no circumstances under which large-scale
wind energy development would be acceptable
in Highland County. That way, potential
developers will know to look elsewhere. This
will save everyone involved lots of time,
money, and effort,” Crawford said.

“If there are one or more legitimate places
in Highland County where large wind energy
development would be acceptable, or even
encouraged by the county, then those areas
need to be identified through a set of appropriate
criteria applied to limited wind development
overlay zones.”

Crawford urged the county to take steps to
assess “community sentiment” toward wind
energy before beginning the review process
for the overall comprehensive plan. “Highland
County faces many important long range planning
issues and decisions, not just wind energy
development. It would be unfortunate to
have the overall plan update process to be
dominated by this single issue,” he said.
With that, Crawford touched on some of
the things the county should require from a
developer before an application for permits or
rezoning is submitted. They include everything
from state and federal reviews to balloon tests
showing Highlanders how the landscape might
look with something that tall on the ridges.
Crawford mentioned elevation views of all
proposed structures, vicinity maps showing
how the project might be sited, and “any other
information that may assist the commission
and board into making an informed decision.”
Crawford said, “Everything and the kitchen
sink needs to be shown so you are very clear.
“You can cover up to about the tree line,
but from there up, they are what they are. It is
what it is,” he said.

Removing inactive or inoperable turbines
is a major issue, Crawford added, reminding
planners if they grant a permit for a wind facility,
it is to the landowner, not the operator
of the plant. “If action is taken, it’s with the
landowner,” he said.
Planners quipped about the number of
hoops outlined by CSPDC for utility companies
to jump through.

Crawford agreed it was a long list, and
would be “very expensive” for a company to
meet the requirements. Developers should pay
for anything related to meeting these recommendations,
he said. “We’ve done the research
for six months, and that’s not been cheap.
We’re handing this project off to you, but the
applicant should be responsible for covering
this information.”

The final owners of wind plants tend to be
“big companies with lots of attorneys” and the
county should decide what it’s willing to accept
ahead of time. “It’s not good to put them
through this expense,” he said, if they have no
reasonable expectation of being granted a permit.
“I went extensive (with the recommendations)
and I went strict. You can always work
backward from these if you want. But we went
as far as we could reasonably go to give you
everything we could find to work with.
“There’s one more thing,” he added. “We
feel from our research that a project committed
to the community should be doing (these
things) anyway.”

Reading from the document, Crawford
said, “We quoted the following by Thomas J.
Shepstone, AICP, at the conclusion of our presentation
at the April 29 wind energy forum:
We are all capable of being NIMBYs. The task
of zoning, however, is to take out that factor,
not reinforce it. A good zoning ordinance administered
properly considers impacts on adjacent
properties, but balances those factors
with rights of landowners and needs of the
community. Zoning in the hands of officials
only prepared to do what is popular quickly
degenerates into meaningless rules where all
decisions are political.

“The suggestions and recommendations
listed herein are extensive, but we feel that they
are achievable by a large-scale wind energy
project committed to best practices. Compliance
with these and other conditions that the
county may consider imposing on a potential
‘wind farm’ project will be expensive for the
applicants. It is of no benefit to anyone if applicants
meeting the requirements cannot anticipate
at least a reasonable opportunity to
successfully garner approval for a conditional
use permit.

“Again, we reiterate the need for the planning
commission and board of supervisors to draft an amendment to comprehensive plan,
and possibly even zoning ordinance amendments,
stating the county’s position with regard
to wind development in Highland. That
may include no wind energy development at
all (small or large), small wind only, or a combination
of some small wind and a limited
number of large wind facilities. It may include
designating wind development zones and excluding
certain zones/areas or simply setting
a base level criteria. There are also community
energy programs where turbines are installed
to supply a percentage of a
community’s energy locally rather than selling
the power on the grid. You may or may
not choose to support something like that. In
any event, we feel that it will be best for all
involved to go ahead and determine what the
playing field really looks like,” he stated.
Crawford concluded, saying, “As requested,
we have conducted a public forum
on the findings of our research and we have
delivered hard copies of our research materials
on wind energy facilities and issues for
review by the board, commission, and the public.
By means of this letter, we are delivering
our suggestions and recommendations to complete
this research project.”

He thanked county officials for the opportunity
to assist. “It has been a real learning
experience for all of us. We hope that we have
been able to provide you with some guidance
as you move forward.”

Responding to questions from planners,
Crawford advised the recommendations be put
into the form of an ordinance. If a developer
applies for a permit before then, “still let it be
known that you’re going to require these things
… While you’re working on it, if anything
comes forward, just tell them, ‘This is what
we’re going to need.’”

After the county decides on a resolution
“then start on the comprehensive plan,”
Crawford said. “You’ve got major land use
issues we’d like to see you spend time on.”
Planners discussed the need to take the next
four weeks and absorb what Crawford had presented
before discussing it at their next meeting
June 24. Then, they said, a series of meetings
could be held to allow them an opportunity
to listen to county residents and discuss
the details, followed by a public hearing.

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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