A local farmers’ advocacy group told Ashe County commissioners yesterday that the county should allow windmills to generate electricity that could be sold as an alternative income for farmers.
The recommendation came a month after Watauga County became the first county in North Carolina to adopt regulations for windmills.
Extension agent Charles Young, a spokesman for the county’s Agriculture Advisory Committee, told Ashe commissioners that it’s in the county’s best interest to gain support and recognition for wind power as a way to preserve farmland.
“Personally, it really doesn’t matter what they do in Watauga County; we’re looking after Ashe County,” he said, adding that wind energy is a sustainable way to replace lost farm income. “… We can keep farmland in farming and still generate income.”
In response to a question from Commissioner Judy Porter Poe, he said that the recommendation includes support for commercial windfarms.
“I’m for alternative energy, I just don’t see commercial windfarms in Ashe County,” Poe replied. “People come to Ashe County and complain about the homes being built, and yet we’re going to (allow) windmills?”
In July, Ashe County Commissioner Richard Calhoun filed an application with the N.C. Utilities Commission to build a windfarm of 25 to 28 windmills on Big Springs Mountain. Each would be about 300 feet tall. Development costs are estimated at $60 million to $65 million, according to the application.
The application says that a comprehensive wind study would be completed before financing arrangements are made. Plans call for the windfarm to begin generating electricity in the fall of 2008, with a service lifetime of 20 to 25 years. It would be a windfarm on an unprecedented scale in the state.
Calhoun didn’t comment publicly during Young’s presentation yesterday, except to say that he wasn’t involved in making the recommendations that Young was presenting. Calhoun did not file for re-election as a commissioner, and his term will end in December.
Commissioner Richard Blackburn alluded to the murky legal status of windmills in saying that the “state still needs to decide” what is allowed.
The ordinance adopted by Watauga County includes a long list of requirements for large wind-energy systems. But the ordinance also contains an appendix with a legal memo saying that the county has determined that single wind turbines are exempt from the N.C. Mountain Ridge Protection Act, commonly called the ridge law. The legal memo says that the county is not dealing with the right to use windmills as part of a large commercial windfarm.
The ridge law limits building heights to 40 feet for ridges at or above 3,000 feet or which are 500 or more feet above a valley floor.
In 2002, when the Tennessee Valley Authority was considering placing a windfarm with as many as 16 large wind turbines a few hundred feet from the state line, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper sided with people fighting to keep the windmills away.
He wrote a letter to TVA administrators telling them that they’d misinterpreted the ridge law by saying that it would allow the construction of a similar windfarm in North Carolina. Cooper wrote that the ridge law’s windmill exception was for a solitary farm windmill and not windmills of the size and number proposed in the windfarm.
Young told the Ashe commissioners that only 2 percent to 3 percent of Ashe’s land area would be suitable for wind power. He said that windmills have changed since the late 1970s and early 1980s when there was a giant experimental NASA wind turbine on Howard’s Knob in Boone.
“The current windmills are not near as noisy, not as visible, not near as noticeable as the old windmills,” he said.
Ashe commissioners didn’t take any action on the recommendation. Young also plans to present the group’s recommendation to the county planning board.
By Monte Mitchell, Journal reporter
“¢ Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at 336-667-5691 or at email@example.com.
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