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Wind energy stirs strong feelings in Western N.C.  

The Blowing Rock Town Council has become the first local government in Northwest North Carolina to ban windmills.

The decision by the town, whose economy depends on tourism, comes less than a year after Watauga County became the first county in the state to adopt an ordinance to regulate wind-energy systems.

“I think appearance is extremely important in a small town like Blowing Rock,” said Town Councilwoman Rita Wiseman. She joined Tuesday’s unanimous vote to prohibit wind-energy systems, including residential-scale windmills.

Appearance issues, including the protection of viewsheds, were the primary reasons for the board’s decision, Wiseman said. Most of the sites where windmills could have been built in Blowing Rock would have been visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The town’s actions are among a string of developments as people in the mountains grapple with how, or if, wind energy can be harnessed here. Scientists at Appalachian State University say that Ashe, Watauga, Avery, Haywood and Buncombe counties are the top five counties in Western North Carolina to develop wind energy.

In Ashe County, a developer has proposed the state’s first industrial-scale wind farm of 25 to 28 wind turbines, but he missed a deadline this week to update a pending application with the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Richard Calhoun is pursuing a required permit from the utilities commission. At the end of a 3½-hour hearing in February, he asked for a 90-day extension to provide a more detailed application.

The deadline passed Wednesday.

Robert Gillam, a staff attorney for the utilities commission, said yesterday that the missed deadline doesn’t mean the application is dead. A hearing before the commission is still scheduled for Aug. 8.

But key players have been puzzled by their inability to reach Calhoun. “We’ve got to figure out what happens now just like everybody else does,” Gillam said.

Staff members at the utilities commission haven’t been able to reach Calhoun.

A spokeswoman for Blue Ridge Electric Membership Co., the company that Calhoun proposes to sell the electricity to, said that the electric cooperative hasn’t heard from him in months.

Dennis Grady, the director of the Energy Center at ASU, said Calhoun hasn’t returned their phone calls either.

Grady said that after the hearing before the utilities commission, Brent Summerville, a member of ASU’s Small Wind Initiative, prepared a site plan for the proposed windfarm and found that Calhoun had only enough land for five or six turbines.

Neither Calhoun nor his attorney returned phone messages left yesterday.

Regarding Blowing Rock’s stand against windmills, Grady said he was disappointed.

“I would have hoped the people in Blowing Rock would have allowed an individual to put a turbine in his own backyard,” he said. “I think if you look at these turbines and see how unobtrusive they are, I don’t think they could ever become a viewscape issue.”

Windmills designed for use at homes have slender poles about 60 feet high, with turbine blades about 2 feet long. Grady said that people who visit a demonstration site on Beech Mountain are often surprised how small the residential windmills are.

In Ashe County, many opponents of the proposed windfarm have said in public hearings that they favor wind energy on a small scale, such as smaller windmills installed at homes.

But opponents of the windfarm also worry about the effect of windmills on mountain views.

Phil Lewis, a member of the Friends of Ashe County, a group formed to fight Calhoun’s proposal, said he encourages the towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson to develop ordinances similar to Blowing Rock’s.

By Monte Mitchell
Journal Reporter

Winston-Salem Journal

15 June 2007

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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