Several hundred people packed an Ashe County courtroom last night to share passionate opinions about a proposed wind farm of 25 to 28 windmills at sites on or near Big Springs Mountain in Creston.
Last night’s hearing before a member of the N.C. Utilities Commission is part of the commission’s decision-making process in approving or denying the project.
In July, Richard Calhoun, a resident of Ashe County, filed an application with the utilities commission to build the wind farm, which would generate electricity that would be sold to power companies.
Each windmill would be about 300 feet tall. Development costs are estimated to be $60million to $65 million, according to the application.
The land is in the Creston community, and borders Rich Hill Road, Willie Walker Road, Roaring Fork Road, Big Springs Road and East Big Springs Road.
John Macknee, who lives near the proposed site, cried as he described how the project would devastate his family, his farm and his two cows.
“The idea of that these turbines are going to go up all around my property is terrifying to me,” Macknee said.
From the other side of the debate, Russell Harper of Sugar Grove in Watauga County said that the wind farm would open the door to renewable energy and new business.
“Our entire ecosystem is teetering on the edge of disaster,” he said. With proper planning and aesthetics, “wind farms can be aesthetically pleasing and become tourism destinations.”
In the first 90 minutes of the hearing, six people spoke in favor of the project and eight spoke against it. Two people didn’t take a side but urged a cautious process.
Supporters of the project cited the need for renewable energy and the precedent that Ashe County would set for the state and nation.
Opponents warned of noise, flashing lights at night and harm to mountain views and tourism.
Josh John-son, who is with the Ashe County Board of Realtors, said he doesn’t want to look at turbines on mountaintops and that a majority of the county’s Realtors oppose the project.
Later, Tom Reeves, a vice chairman of the county’s Farmland Preservation Board, said that his group supports the project as a way for farmers to make money and preserve farmland.
The application says that a comprehensive wind study would be completed before arrangements are made for financing. Plans call for the wind farm to begin generating electricity in the fall of 2008, with a service lifetime of 20 to 25 years.
The windmills proposed for Big Springs Mountain would have a capacity of 50 megawatts, enough to power about 12,000 homes, if the wind is constant.
Because winds are variable, the turbines would more likely operate at a lower capacity. The application says that if the wind turbines operate at 35 percent of capacity, the yearly power production would be about 150 million kilowatt hours. An average home uses about 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has sided in the past with opponents of wind farms, saying that they are in violation of the state’s ridge law, but proponents disagree.
The utilities commission will conduct a hearing for additional public witness testimony and expert testimony at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 13 in Room 2115, Dobbs Building, 430 N. Salisbury St., in Raleigh.
By Monte Mitchell
“¢ Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at 336-667-5691 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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