The Ashe County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 yesterday to adopt an ordinance regulating wind-energy systems, but it will take a more detailed look at its provisions.
“We can immediately and will immediately get our legal advice about tweaking the ordinance,” said Richard Blackburn, the chairman of the commissioners.
The county has “a long list of things we need to research and take a look at” in the ordinance, he said.
The commissioners’ vote was the second reading on the ordinance, which means that it is in effect.
Richard Calhoun, the former Ashe County commissioner who is proposing to build a wind farm of 25 to 28 turbines on family land in Creston, told the commissioners that the issue is “a very basic struggle between farmers and developers.”
After the meeting, he and his brother, Tommy Calhoun, said that economic pressures are forcing farmers to look for other sources of income and that the wind farm would help them preserve family land.
Tommy Calhoun said that the wind farm would have a life of about 25 years and would give their children and grandchildren a chance to see if wind farms are a good idea. The alternative is selling the land for housing development.
“Houses are forever,” he said. “People don’t realize what they’re fighting for. If we can save our land for 20 to 25 years, our young’uns and grandchildren will know what to do.”
Among the ordinance’s provisions is a setback that says that a commercial wind farm must be at least 1,700 feet from a home or business.
Richard Calhoun said that the setback would prohibit their wind farm, but he also maintains that the project was already in progress before the ordinance was adopted.
The Calhouns filed an application in July with the N.C. Utilities Commission, which will decide whether the project receives a certificate that would allow it to proceed. The utilities commission held a public hearing in Raleigh last week and scheduled its hearing for Aug. 8.
The county’s position is that the state’s Ridge Law protects the county’s mountain ridges, Blackburn said. The law prohibits tall buildings or structures on protected mountains, but there is debate about whether an exception for windmills allows commercial wind farms.
The Calhouns maintain that the law does allow windmills.
Blackburn said that the county needed an ordinance in place so that if the Ridge Law is not upheld, the county has a say in regulating wind-energy systems.
Since Ashe County doesn’t have land-use planning, the board may use its authority to regulate windmills in ways that are reasonable, he said.
Commissioner Marty Gambill said he agreed that the ordinance should be in place in case the Ridge Law doesn’t protect the county’s mountains, but he thinks that changes are needed.
Richard Calhoun told commissioners that the ordinance amounted to “haphazard zoning” that isn’t acceptable. He said he was disappointed that the county’s planning board never considered the issue.
“I’m pleased that the county is looking toward the future with an ordinance, but I’m very disappointed with how they got to this point,” he said after the meeting. “I see this purely as an attempt to restrict and prohibit rather than regulate.”
By Monte Mitchell
20 February 2007
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