Ashe County commissioners are expected to consider adopting an ordinance on wind-energy systems after a public hearing that will start at 5 p.m. Monday in the Ashe County Courthouse.
The ordinance is a response to a proposed commercial wind farm of 25 to 28 wind turbines in Creston.
The ordinance is virtually identical to a wind-energy-systems ordinance adopted in Watauga County last August, but there is a significant difference in the first sentence of Ashe’s ordinance. It says that the county “has determined the North Carolina Mountain Ridge Protection Act is in effect.”
Opponents of commercial wind farms in the mountains say that the Ridge Act prohibits them on protected ridges.
That opinion is shared by the public staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission, which filed a statement Tuesday saying that the wind farm shouldn’t be allowed because it violates the Ridge Law. The turbines would be more than 300 feet tall.
The public staff’s opinion is part of the testimony on the issue, but is not binding on the six-member N.C. Utilities Commission as it decides whether to approve the application for the wind farm.
During a public hearing on the wind farm Thursday, Richard Blackburn, the chairman of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners, said that the county is considering an ordinance because otherwise it will have no voice on the issue.
“Without this ordinance that we’re considering, this board will have forfeited any impact in the future,” he said.
Watauga County used the same rationale when it became the first of North Carolina’s 100 counties to adopt a wind-energy systems ordinance.
Both Blackburn and the attorney representing the wind-farm developers said that the courts may have to decide if the Ridge Law allows or prohibits commercial wind farms.
The Ridge Law has never been tested in court.
When Watauga County was considering its wind-energy generation ordinance, the local officials discussed whether the wording in the state statute allows windmills.
The Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 was adopted by the General Assembly after public outcry about the Sugar Top resort in Avery County. The Ridge Law limits building or structure heights to 40 feet on ridges at or above 3,000 feet elevation or which are more than 500 feet above a valley floor.
The law makes exceptions for “structures of a relatively slender nature and minor vertical projections of a parent building, including chimneys, flagpoles, flues, spires, steeples, belfries, cupolas, antennas, poles, wires or windmills.”
In Watauga County, people debated whether windmills are exempt only if they are relatively slender and are minor vertical projections of a parent building, or whether they are exempt because they’re slender or exempt under any circumstance.
Andrea Capua, acting as Watauga County’s attorney, wrote a legal memo included in the Watauga ordinance. The memo says that windmills are exempt from the Ridge Law, but also says that the memo is talking about single-wind turbines and not wind turbines that are part of a large wind farm.
Capua is representing Richard Calhoun, the former Ashe County commissioner who has applied to build the wind farm on family land.
“Really, the court system is the only thing that is going to resolve that,” she told Ashe commissioners Thursday about how people have interpreted the Ridge Law. The important thing is the process, she said.
“There’s got to be a way to support wind energy and address those concerns,” she said, adding that she was confident that everyone could work together to arrive at a good ordinance in Ashe County.
“¢ Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at 336-667-5691 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“¢ To see the proposed ordinance, visit www.ashecountygov.com, and click on ordinances.
By Monte Mitchell
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