Wind farms on the mountaintops in Ashe?
A local farmer and former county commissioner Richard Calhoun of Northwest Wind Developers, LLC is proposing a wind farm of 25-28 wind turbines in Creston to make electricity.
Anyone interested in letting their voice be heard on this issue can attend a hearing for the purpose of receiving public comments on Thursday, Jan. 25th at 7 p.m. in the small courtroom of the Ashe County Courthouse in Jefferson. This hearing will be held by the North Carolina Utilities Commission and it will then later reconvene for the purpose of receiving additional public witness testimony and expert witness testimony from the parties on Feb. 13th at 9:30 a.m. in Commission Hearing 2115 in Raleigh.
According to an application filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission by Manager Richard Calhoun of Northwest Wind Developers, LLC, the facility’s street address is proposed to be in the Creston community on land bordering Rich Hill Road, Willie Walker Road, Roaring Fork Road, Big Springs Road and East Big Springs Road. The projected cost of the facility is $60-65 million, according to the application, and financing agreements are pending.
Calhoun said he plans to use the wind turbines made by Vestas (www.vestas.com), which is a company he said he has followed for the past 20 years. He noted that he is is not sure at this time as to how many employees will be hired to work at the facility, but there would be maintenance and high tech positions available. The actual height of the turbines will be determined by a wind study that has not yet been done, but he believes it will be between 80 ““ 105 meters (around 260-345 feet). “I believe this would be one of the largest investments ever made in this county. A project of this size will cost more than $65 million so I believe it will be an investment of the largest infrastructure for our county. It will be a taxable entity so the county will reap the benefits of the tax from this,” Calhoun explained.
“I have been interested in windmills since my days at Appalachian and the Howard’s Knob project. Using wind to produce electricity has been compared to hybrid engine. I have been interested in wind energy and followed it over the years. Now the technology is to the point where it is reasonable to make an investment for the return.”
The proposed height of the turbines is causing controversy concerning commercial wind farms. According to NC Attorney General Roy Cooper in 2002, single windmills are acceptable but wind farms would be in violation of the Mountain Ridge Protection Act, which includes the Ridge Law. North Carolina has a law restricting height of structures on ridge tops in order to protect the mountain viewshed. Commercial windmills are believed not to be permitted under this current law. The state’s 1983 Ridge Law limits building height to 40 feet on ridges above 3,000 feet in elevation or are more than 500 feet above a valley floor. Slender structures and chimneys are exempt.
Calhoun and Wind Developers, LLC believe that the 1983 act does not affect this proposed project. “We feel that the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 does not apply to this project. I had the pleasure of being a student when the Howard’s Knob project was running and I have followed the technology since that time. The 1983 Act specifically excluded windmills because of the Howard’s Knob project. The writers of the 1983 Act had the foresight to envision technological advances that make this a viable project,” Calhoun wrote in documentation filed with the NC Utilities Commission.
“We would maintain that this area of Ashe County is ideally suited for the project in question. We are the landowners and are acutely aware of the heritage and beauty of the area. Having grown up here, with an extensive heritage, we want to maintain our working farms. This is not a hobby or game to us. We respect what the land is allowing us to create. Our goal is always to use best management practices. This will be the same principle we will use if granted a permit for the wind project. Our local farms are under much development pressure. This endeavor would promote maintenance of the farms and open green spaces by making the farm more financially viable.”
There are both letters of support and letters against the project found online on the NC Utilities Commission website. Some of the concerns expressed include the required utility corridor that would be necessary to transmit power from the generation site to the nearest utility substation, which means that condemnation of property would affect property owners in the vicinity of the facility. This would also mean upgrades that would be quite costly.
An attorney, Mary Grigg, representing Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation has also filed information regarding the proposed facility. “BREMCO is not filing a complaint in opposition to this Project as BREMCO supports the development of electric generation facilities from renewable resources. However, in order to properly represent its members’ interests, applicant needs to provide additional details before BREMCO can make firm commitments to schedule and construct facilities to support this Project.” Director of Economic Development Brian Crutchfield of Blue Ridge Electric said Monday morning that Blue Ridge Electric has not commissioned any studies as of this time, but studies would have to be completed to determine specific information about the cost of the project as well as other details.
Walter Clark, who has researched various issues such as this one, is also concerned with the facility’s plans and has written a paper about the project. “What happens on Ashe County’s Big Springs Mountain could set a precedent that could impact many of North Carolina’s beautiful and revered mountain ridges,” Clark wrote. He added that the proposed height is approximately three times the height of the 10-story Sugar Top Condominium on Sugar Mountain in Avery County. It was the development of Sugar Top in 1982 that united landowners, responsible developers, environmentalists, and local and state politicians to press for passage of North Carolina’s Mountain Ridge Protection Act.
Clark wrote in his paper, “Thirty years from now when we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the preservation of the New River, what will we see from Mount Rogers, Grayson Highlands and Mount Jefferson? Will it be hundreds of giant 300-400 foot-high wind turbines interconnected by a patchwork of high voltage power lines crisscrossing farmland and forest, or will it be the layered mountain ridges, green valleys and pastoral farmlands ““ views that have long been a part of our history, culture and economy. Can we have a renewable energy resource without doing harm to our mountain resources? That is the question and it should be a matter of concern to the citizens of Ashe County and all other people who cherish the beauty of western North Carolina.”
According to documentation filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, Scot Pope who lives near the proposed project site filed a comment stating that after he reviewed the application, he believes “the construction, maintenance and operation of this facility in such close proximity to my 60-year-old permanent residence on Willie Walker Road would have a detrimental, potentially devastating effect on my health, my well-being and the quality of my remaining life.”
Read next week’s edition of The Mountain Times for more information about this proposed project.
To have input into this process, contact the North Carolina Utilities Commission before January 23rd and let them know your opinion about the application for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity, SP-167, Sub. 1 submitted by Northwest Wind Energies, LLC. Correspondence regarding the certificate can also be accessed at SP-167, Sub 0. The Commission’s web address is: www.ncuc.commerce.state.nc.us/overview/director.htm.
Sam Watson is the attorney in charge of the application and correspondence should be sent to his attention and copied to Robert Bennick. Watson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bennick can be reached at email@example.com. Both can be reached by fax, or phone at 919-733-7300 (fax), or 919-733-3969.
By Fawn Roark
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