A proposed wind farm of 25 to 28 wind turbines in Creston has prompted the Ashe County government to draw up an ordinance to govern wind-energy systems.
Commissioners will consider it Monday after a public hearing.
Yesterday, they got news that heartened people opposed to the project.
The wind farm should not be allowed because it violates the state’s Ridge Law – which limits building heights in the mountains – the public staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission said in a statement filed Tuesday but made public yesterday.
The staff’s statement becomes part of the record as the six members of the Utilities Commission consider whether to approve an application for the wind farm.
The issue is hotly debated in Ashe County. Last night, for the second time in less than a week, a hearing on the wind farm drew a packed house that spilled out the door of an Ashe County courtroom used as a meeting space.
Commissioners were prepared to adopt the ordinance last night, said Richard Blackburn, the chairman of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners. But they decided that the Utilities Commission’s staff opinion relieved some of the pressure so that county commissioners could take more time to work on the proposed ordinance.
“In my opinion, this issue may end up being referred to the courts for interpretation or to the legislature for clarification,” Blackburn said.
The Ridge Law has never been tested in court.
The Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983, commonly called the Ridge Law, was adopted by the General Assembly after public outcry about the Sugar Top resort in Avery County.
The Ridge Law limits heights of buildings or structures to 40 feet on ridges at or above 3,000-feet elevation or which are more than 500 feet above a valley floor.
The Ridge Law contains a limited exception for windmills. Robert Gruber, the executive director of the Utilities Commission, said that the staff’s position against the wind farm is based on a previous statement by Attorney General Roy Cooper. In a 2002 letter, Cooper wrote that the term windmills meant only “the traditional, solitary farm windmill which has long been in use in rural communities” and not wind turbines.
The Utilities Commission staff said it agrees with Cooper that wind turbines are not “windmills” but are instead “tall buildings or structures” that are illegal under the Ridge Law. The Attorney General’s Office also says it intends to monitor the wind-farm issue and get involved if necessary.
Blackburn said that the Ridge Law, if upheld, won’t allow the proposed wind farm, but that Ashe County should have its own ordinance in place so that it has a voice in wind-energy development there.
During last night’s hearing, 26 people spoke against the wind farm and nine spoke in favor of it.
“We have an immeasurable treasure in this county, and there’s no way we should allow it to be destroyed for the benefit of a small number of people,” said Robert Franklin, who lives near the proposed site on Big Springs Mountain and doesn’t like how the windmills would affect mountain views.
C.B. Elliott, who lives near the site, was one of the few local residents who supported the project.
“My wife and I have talked it over, and if these windmills don’t come, it’s going to be houses, and we would rather have the windmills,” he said.
Some win-farm opponents said they support alternative energy and would support single windmills, but not a wind farm on such a big scale.
Many of the wind-farm supporters at both hearings came from Watauga County, where Appalachian State University operates the N.C. Small Wind Initiative.
By Monte Mitchell
“¢ Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at 336-667-5691 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.