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Windmills in Ashe?  

Opponents of a windmill farm in Ashe County worry that the windmills would ruin the mountain scenery. Yet without windmills and other sources of alternative energy, too much dependence on fossil fuels will ultimately ruin those views with smog and kill the trees and vegetation.

What’s needed are good regulations that allow windmill farms to be put in the right places with the right limitations. Unfortunately, Ashe, because of its longtime resistance to a comprehensive land-use plan, lacks those regulations.

If today’s “You’re the Source” question on the opposite page is any indication, many people in our region wouldn’t object to energy-generating windmills on hills near their home.

But regulations are sorely needed, because the Ashe plan calls for up to 28 windmills with heights of about 300 feet on or near Big Springs Mountain. Ashe County commissioners took a tardy stab at regulation last week by approving an ordinance to govern such wind-energy systems. The ordinance would include a setback requirement that says a large wind-energy system shall not be allowed within 1,700 feet of any home or commercial building, Monte Mitchell reported in Tuesday’s Journal.

Some say that requirement would prohibit the proposed windmill farm, which would generate electricity to sell to power companies. But the ordinance, which still needs approval following a second reading on Feb. 19, could ultimately be moot.

The N.C. Utilities Commission, which will decide whether to approve the windmill project, holds a public hearing on the project Tuesday in Raleigh.

The commission will decide on the issue sometime after that hearing. Its decision will likely turn on its interpretation of the state’s Ridge Law, and there’s controversy over whether that law prohibits wind turbines of an industrial scale.

If the commission rules against the windmill farm, the man proposing to build it, former county commissioner Richard Calhoun, could appeal.

And if the state commission approves his farm, Calhoun could appeal in court the county ordinance on wind-energy systems, arguing that it came after he’d already applied to the state for his windmill farm.

In short, an ugly fight is looming. On one level, it’s a fight between progressives who stress conservation of scenic views against progressives who stress alternative sources of energy.

And it’s a fight that could have been avoided.

Ashe County commissioners should finally get the message that they need a comprehensive land-use plan, one designed to meet the challenges posed by plans for windmill farms and many other kinds of development. There’s considerable citizen resistance to such a plan. But commissioners need to lead on this issue and take control of their county’s future.

Winston-Salem Journal

11 February 2007

journalnow.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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