Approximately 75 people attended a community meeting Monday night coordinated by leaders of the Ashe County Board of Realtors and the Ashe County Home Builders Association to discuss the proposed wind farm that could possibly be located in Creston on Big Springs Mountain.
Local farmer and former county commissioner Richard Calhoun of Northwest Wind Developers, LLC is proposing a wind farm consisting of 25-28 wind turbines in Creston to make electricity. Anyone interested in letting their voice be heard on this issue is encouraged to 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.
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. The actual height of the turbines will be determined by a wind study that has not yet been done, but Calhoun said he believes the turbines will be between 80 ““ 105 meters (around 260-345 feet).
Those attending the meeting Monday listened to information about the Mountain Ridge Protection Act, its history and the controversy surrounding whether or not the Act will actually protect the mountains from the huge height of the wind turbines. A film was also shown that showed people who lived near other facilities, which they believe will be similar to the proposed facility, who complained about the extreme noise problems they encountered because of the farms. Another main problem mentioned in the film was the loss of the surrounding property value as well as the loss of the quality of life, which many people at the meeting seemed to be very concerned about.
Discussion at Monday night’s meeting also included conversation that Blue Ridge Electric Membership Cooperative would be required by state law to to purchase the electricity after it is made by the wind farm as well as the upgrades that would have to be made to accept the electricity. Individuals at the meeting said that this cost would fall back onto the local consumers. Other concerns were that if this wind farm is allowed, there are 12-15 other sites in the county where these wind farms could be placed as well.
The Ashe County Board of Realtors approved a petition at the meeting that is now circulating throughout the county and plan to bring to the hearing held by the NC Utilities Commission on Thursday. The petition reads as follows: “PETITION IN OPPOSITION TO WIND TURBINE POWER PLANT IN ASHE COUNTY (“Wind Farm”)
The undersigned, being businesses, associations, citizens and residents of Ashe County, do vehemently oppose the proposed Wind Farm since it will not result in any benefit to Ashe County and will only benefit the promoters and supporters of the Wind Farm and will, in fact, result in a loss of tourism, a loss of property values, a loss of tranquility and the scenic beauty of this area, and a loss in the Ashe County tax base.
The undersigned further state that studies have shown in areas that have wind farms, that employment does not increase, but noise pollution does; that wind farms provide an insignificant contribution to the power grid, but a significant decrease in property values; and that tourism is negatively impacted.
The undersigned further request that the Ashe County Board of Commissioners publicly and emphatically denounce and reject this Wind Farm and make known their strong objection to all governmental officials who have any voice in the decision making process of this disastrous project.”
Chairman Richard Blackburn of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners then said the hearing Thursday is being held by the NC Utilities Commission and the Commissioners are not involved. Darrell Hamilton of the Ashe County Home Building Association said they were asking the commissioners to get involved and do something on a local level before it is too late for anything to be done. Other people commented about their desire for the commissioners to make a stand on the issue that will have an impact on Ashe County and one woman noted that Watauga County had passed an ordinance controlling the height of structures built on their ridge tops.
There are both letters and documents showing support and letters and documents filed in opposition to the proposed project that can be found on the NC Utilities Commission website (ncuc.commerce.state.nc.us/docksrch.html SP-167, Sub 1). 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 to Blue Ridge Electric would be quite costly.
A new letter filed Monday by Richard Calhoun and Tommy Calhoun to the NC Utilities Commission reads: “Our land is accessible and we understand how to develop it without destroying it. Every effort will be made to protect the Mountain. The Mountain is a sacred place to me, having walked to its summit since early childhood. Northwest Wind Developers, LLC maintains that the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 does not apply to this project. The 1983 Act excluded windmills.” The letter also mentions studies from Dennis O’Grady that says public attitudes are favorable towards wind development and another study that states wind projects do not appear to hurt property values of an area.
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