It has been standing room only at the meetings regarding the proposed wind turbine facility that could be built on Big Springs Mountain in Creston. The Ashe County Board of Commissioners approved the first reading of the Ashe County Ordinance to Regulate Wind Energy Systems Monday at their regularly scheduled meeting. The Ordinance will be presented again at the Feb. 19th meeting of the commissioners and can be officially adopted at that time, but because Commissioner Marty Gambill was not at Monday’s meeting it could not be adopted then.
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.)
Last week, Attorney General Roy Cooper and the Public Staff of the Utilities Commission both filed papers relating to a certificate of convenience and necessity requested by Calhoun on behalf of Northwest Wind Developers, LLC. Cooper filed to intervene in the permitting process so he could participate in the next hearing held by the NC Utilities Commission set for Feb. 13th in Raleigh.
The Public Staff of the NC Utilities Commission also filed a statement of position based on an interpretation of the Mountain Ridge Protection Act in 2002 stating that wind turbine as proposed in this project does not meet the definition of wind mill that is allowed by the Mountain Ridge Protection Act or Ridge law.
During Monday’s meeting of the Commissioners, public comment was received regarding the proposed ordinance to regulate wind energy systems. Many people came forward to speak including opponents and supporters of the project as they did in last week’s meeting of the Commissioners. The first individual to speak Monday was Jay Vincent of Vincent Properties who is a partner in the Phoenix Mountain Project that has been proposed to be a ski resort. Vincent spoke of the “specialness” of Ashe County because of its scenic beauty and aesthetics. He noted that people do not want to be told what to do with their land, but “in times like this, comprehensive planning sure looks good.” He added that he felt wind turbines would be very detrimental to the area and his last point was that he spoke to the commissioners less than a year ago about his project proposed for Phoenix Mountain. “It is ironic that the only person who objected was Dr. Calhoun who stated he wanted Ashe County to remain the way it is,” Vincent said.
Calhoun was another speaker at the meeting who talked about his love for the mountains of Ashe County calling Big Springs Mountain sacred. He then talked about energy and the costs that result from the use of it. “We are all consumers of energy and we have to be concerned about where it comes from,” Calhoun said. “I feel Ashe County and other mountain counties are ideal for wind generation. I have looked at this for years. I believe we could do the project without the destruction of our beloved mountains. I certainly love them and Big Springs Mountain is a sacred place to me.”
Many other speakers followed who spoke on both sides of the issues. Many of the project’s opponents are concerned that the proposed turbines will have extreme noise and be destructive to the mountain’s viewshed. They feel that it may adversely affect their health and would also change the mountain views forever and it will never be the same. Others mentioned that they believe there will be a negative impact on tourism in Ashe County causing damage to the local economy and that the turbines will have a negative effect on wildlife as well.
Beverly Black, a native of Ashe County who grew up near the proposed site of the project, and currently lives in Jefferson spoke against the project. She spoke about negative change and how the commissioners have a great responsibility to make sure change is for the good of the people of Ashe County who they represent. She said she had been to both meetings prior to Monday’s meeting and had heard people from other areas talking about how this project would be for the benefit of Ashe County’s people. Black also mentioned the ordinance in Watauga County that prohibits anyone in that county from building a large wind project such as the one proposed for Ashe County. “I’ve been through two meetings and I’ve heard people from Watauga say this is good for us. Why do you (Watauga residents) have an ordinance in your own backyard? Change your own ordinance and leave ours alone,” she noted.
Those supporting the project often mentioned the environmental benefits by providing an alternative to burning coal or other fossil fuels. Several spoke about global warming and how this project would help alleviate some of those negative effects. Ann Goss, a native of Ashe County, said people are to take care of the planet that God gave to them. She noted that she was speaking on behalf of her grandchildren. “We have the opportunity to take a small step forward to combat global warming ““ global warming is very real,” she said. Curtis Cheek of Warrensville who lives near the proposed project site said he felt this project is “the way to go for new energy”. He believes North Carolina could be a model for other states and the proposed wind facility could create tourist attractions.
The second public hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, Feb. 13th at 9:30 a.m. in the Utilities Commission Hearing Room, Dobbs Building, 430 N. Salisbury St. in Raleigh. Anyone wanting to read the proposed ordinance that may be officially approved at the next commissioner’s meeting may do so by visiting www.ashecountygov.com and clicking on the “ordinances” link. Much documentation can also be found on the NC Utilities Commission website at ncuc.commerce.state.nc.us/docksrch.html and entering SP-167, Sub. 1.
By Fawn Roark
8 February 2007
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