Ashe County residents will have to wait at least another seven months before they learn the fate of a developer’s controversial request to build large wind turbines on or near Big Springs Mountain.
At the conclusion of a 3 1/2 -hour hearing yesterday to consider the proposal, the N.C. Utilities Commission took one action: It scheduled another hearing for Aug. 8.
Between now and then, the developer can provide more details about his plan, and he and his opponents can gather expert testimony.
Richard Calhoun, a former commissioner in Ashe County, wants to build 25 to 28 wind turbines that would be used to generate commercial electricity. Each turbine would be more than 300 feet tall.
Many residents strongly oppose the idea, saying that a large wind farm would ruin the area’s natural beauty and hurt property values. Some residents and other groups, however, support the proposal, praising wind power as an environmentally friendly and sustainable form of energy production.
Calhoun must get a permit from the utilities commission before he can go ahead with the development.
In deciding whether to issue the permit, the commission will have to interpret a 1983 state law, known as the Ridge Law, that limits tall structures on mountain ridges. Any interpretation is likely to hinge on the definition of the word “windmill.”
The law contains exceptions for certain structures, such as chimneys, steep-les, flagpoles and windmills. Opponents of the proposed wind farm argued yesterday that the exception applies to small private windmills, such as those found on farms, but does not ap-ply to large commercial wind turbines used to produce large amounts of electricity.
The utilities commission heard testimony from 20 people, many of whom live in Ashe County. Most of the speakers were opposed to the wind farm.
The comments made at the hearing repeated many of the points made at another public hearing held last month in Ashe County.
“If you approve this project, you will make the people of Ashe County suffer, and suffer badly,” said Steven Rose, who has homes in Carrboro and the Ashe County community of Warrens-ville.
“You can have a good thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing in every situation,” Rose said. “Sometimes you have to put two good things on the scale and weigh them.”
Phil Stanley of Lansing said that the wind farm would help the local economy.
“This is a boon to the county. It’ll bring in money. Hopefully it’ll lower taxes,” Stanley said.
Beyond the Ridge Law debate, another complication for Calhoun is a new Ashe County ordinance aimed at regulating wind-energy systems.
The ordinance was devised in response to Calhoun’s application, and county commissioners approved it last week. It requires that large wind-energy systems be more than 1,700 feet from homes or businesses.
An attorney for Calhoun, Andrea Capua, said after yesterday’s hearing that she does not know whether the new ordinance would effectively stop Calhoun’s proposal.
“Because of where we are in the application process, we don’t know exactly where his windmills will be,” Capua said.
Calhoun has chosen a general area for the site but has not named any specific points on a map.
By James Romoser
Journal Raleigh Bureau
14 February 2007