Commissioners Plan Wind Turbines Discussion; Standing Room Only Available At Utilities Commission Hearing
There was standing room only at the large courtroom at the Ashe County Courthouse for the NC Utilities Commission’s first hearing regarding the proposed wind turbine facility that could be built on Big Springs Mountain in Creston. Now, a special meeting will be held Wednesday, Jan. 31st at 5 p.m. by the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to consider options available to Ashe County.
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. 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 260-345 feet (roughly around 30 stories tall.)
The Ashe County Board of Commissioners have called the Special Meeting to consider options available to Ashe County for the proposed request to the North Carolina Utilities Commission for the development of Wind Generation in Ashe County. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 31st, beginning at 5 p.m. in the small courtroom at the Ashe County Courthouse
Items to be discussed include:
1. The “Mountain Ridge Protection Act” – Is this act designed for the protection of Mountain Ridges and does it properly address the development of Wind Generation of a commercial size?
2. The development of a “Resolution” to request a period of time prior to the action by the Utilities Commission to develop Ashe County’s position on Wind Generators and/or Windmills.
3. “A Proposed Ordinance for the Operation, Development and Construction of Wind Generation in Ashe County”.
General comments from the public on Wind Generation will be allowed and there will also be commissioner discussion, comments and proposals. County Manager Dan McMillan said Monday that a lot of people have called regarding this issue and that the official public hearing by the commissioners has been set for Feb. 5th at 5 p.m. McMillan said it is possible that groups who have an opinion on this issue may be asked to select a speaker who will speak on behalf of the entire group during the general comments from the public section of the meeting on Wednesday.
The decision to have the meeting was made official Monday morning on this topic that was obviously controversial following statements made at the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s public hearing Thursday night that lasted over four hours. The large courtroom was packed at the Ashe County Courthouse with people packed into the lobby area waiting to try to get in and find a place to stand inside the actual courtroom.
Most of the people supporting the project who spoke at the meeting were from Boone and Appalachian State University through the NC Wind Energy Program located at ASU. All of the people speaking in opposition to the project lived in Ashe County except a Raleigh resident with childhood memories of spending time in scenic Ashe County. There were a total of 47 people who spoke at the Utilities Commissioner hearing with 30 speaking in support of the project and 19 of those individuals do not live in Ashe County. There were 15 individuals speaking in opposition to the project.
John McKnee of Lansing was very emotional as he spoke about the effects he feared from the proposed wind turbines. “As far as I’m concerned, I live at ground zero within a quarter of a mile of the proposed sites. I have lived here in the county for eight years because I wanted to be in nature and raise my kids ““ the idea that these turbines could go up all around my property is terrifying to me. I don’t have the money to move and I don’t want to be anywhere else than where I am now ““ this is the worst possible thing that could happen to me and my children,” he said tearfully.
McKnee and others opposing the project discussed research they found noting that wind turbines similar to the ones proposed by Northwest Wind Developers can be noisy, cause blade flicker from the sun that causes shadows and bright flashes as well as the strobe lights required because of aircraft warning lights required for structures over 200 feet tall. They also believe that the noise will be extreme and can be damaging to wildlife and birds. Scot Pope, whose property adjoins the proposed site, said that the hearing should not be about individual interests, but the precedent that would be set for Ashe County by approving this project. Many seem to believe that if this project is approved, then others will be built on 12-15 other sites in the county that have been said to be appropriate for this kind of wind turbine facility.
Director Dennis Scanlin of the NC Wind Energy Program of ASU said he supports the project and believes that large wind turbines can address energy needs and will be a great asset to the mountain communities. He called the turbines “gentle giants” and said the noise from them would rarely exceed the noise of the actual wind. He noted that he believed wind turbines are “beautiful” and compared them to huge structures such as cathedrals and even the Statue of Liberty.
Others supporting the project talked about destruction and problems caused by coal mining and felt that this project provides a good alternative to coal mining. The Agricultural Advisory Committee/Farmland Preservation Board recommends that “Ashe County encourage and pursue wind power as a method to help preserve the sustainability of our local farm economy. Our local farm economy has been hurt by the loss of tobacco, dropping over 600 producers in the last two years. Christmas tree production is being stressed by high land prices driven by development as well as new diseases and insect pressures. Beef cattle have always been a land and labor intensive industry with high feed prices and lack of markets as well as high land prices are making if more difficult to generate income,” a written statement given to the press by Chairman Tom Reeves of the Ashe County Agricultural Advisory Committee and Farmland Preservation Board.
“Wind power is an opportunity for some our farms to be able to keep the tradition and land use values of farming while generating a sustainable farm income at the same time supplying our country with a source of green, renewable power. Landowner rights have always been important to this area. With property values skyrocketing due to development, the ability to generate a sustainable income from agriculture is becoming more difficult. Wind power generation will give some farmers the potential to generate income while preserving most of the land for agricultural operations. It is practical to grow trees or raise livestock adjacent to these structures. We are in a tourist area and the Big Springs area is part of a much larger view shed. However, as seen at the Howard’s Knob site, this project may actually entice visitors to the Creston area making tourism in that area increase significantly.”
A statement issued by the Ashe County Home Builders Association explained that their group is not not opposed to renewable energy resources, but is opposed however to the current wind turbine project being proposed in Ashe County. The Association statement said they feel this proposal has been very poorly thought out due to no environmental impact studies being done to see how this project would affect the environment. They also said that there has been no economic impact studies done to see how “this windmill farm, and others like it, would affect the local economy in terms of construction, tourism, and industry recruitment. The ACHBA feels that if such studies were done, they would show that the proposed windmill farm would have adverse effects in all these areas,” the statement reads.
“Moreover, the ACHBA is concerned that even if wind turbines were put on every ridge in Ashe County, the resulting power generated would be less than one percent of what the state needs. The ACHBA was glad that there was a great turnout for the windmill farm proposal on Thursday night. It is good that the issue is being publicly and openly debated. It was noticed, however, that the majority of proponents for the windmill farm at the hearing were NOT from Ashe County. Instead, they seemed to be largely students and professors from Appalachian University in Watauga County. Watauga County has already passed ordinances that do not allow windmill farms on their ridges. Ultimately, the ACHBA opposes this windmill farm proposal because it strongly feels that it would cause great harm to the building, tourism, and economic development industries, and NOT benefit anybody except the landowner who wants to put the windmills up.”
The hearing held by the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s hearing will 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.
By Fawn Roark
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