The Ashe County Board of Commissioners adopted a wind-energy ordinance yesterday that limits wind-turbine heights to 199 feet as measured to the tip of the turbine’s blade.
The new rules replace those that commissioners adopted in February as they hurried to get county-wide regulations in place before the first N.C. Utilities Commission hearing on a proposed commercial wind farm of 25 to 28 turbines in Creston.
The utilities commission’s hearings are scheduled in August, and the commissioners have been reviewing the ordinance.
The regulations are effective immediately because the commissioners voted unanimously on the matter. Their 5-0 vote followed a short public hearing.
The other major change reduces setback requirements for large wind-turbine systems from 1,700 feet to 1,000 feet from a property line. The change was made on the advice of an attorney hired by the county.
He told commissioners that it was important to make the regulations consistent with other county rules in case the issue is challenged in court.
Despite the reduced setback, about twelve members of a citizens group fighting the wind farm applauded commissioners when the rules were adopted.
Maria Whaley, a spokeswoman for Friends of Ashe County, said she was a little disappointed in the setback change, but she appreciates the process that commissioners have been through. Commissioners visited wind farms in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
She said she is pleased with the new height limits.
“That was significant,” she said. “It went from basically unlimited to 199 feet.”
The 199-foot limit means that the turbines will not require aviation warning lights, as they would if a turbine were 200 feet or higher. Opponents of the project had objected to having flashing beacons in the night sky on ridge tops.
Public hearings this past winter drew hundreds of people, including several speakers, but six people spoke to the commissioners yesterday.
Jeff Martin of Lansing told commissioners that the commercial wind-farm project is not right for Ashe County. He talked about his recent trip to Pennsylvania, where he saw five turbines on a ridge.
“We’ve got one big asset in this county and that’s our environment, our mountains,” he said. “It wouldn’t fit. There were only five on that ridge, and it destroyed the scenery.”
Phil Stanley of Lansing asked commissioners to not kill the project. “We need clean energy,” he said. “Don’t write an ordinance that’s going to keep this project from going and don’t write an ordinance so tough it’s going to take $20 million in lawyer bills to get it going.”
Of the six speakers, Stanley was the only one who supported the wind farm.
Members of Friends of Ashe County said they support renewable energy, including residential-scale windmills, but that the proposed wind farm is too large.
Richard Blackburn, the chairman of Ashe commissioners, said that the county adopted regulations to have a voice in the issue but could not adopt regulations that were so tough no one could meet them.
The utilities commission has an Aug. 8 hearing scheduled on whether to issue a permit for the wind farm. After the developer missed a deadline to provide more information, the Friends of Ashe County filed a motion asking the utilities commission to dismiss the application.
On July 13, the presiding commissioner of the utilities commission filed a motion giving the wind-farm developer until July 25 to show why its application should not be dismissed. Whaley said that it is irrelevant if this particular proposal is dismissed.
By Monte Mitchell
17 July 2007