The N.C. utilities commission dismissed yesterday an application for a commercial wind farm in the Ashe County community of Creston.
Last July’s application by Northwest Wind Developers to put up 25 to 28 wind turbines created uproar in the mountains, with some people complaining that 300-foot tall turbines would ruin tourism, views and real-estate values.
But there were many supporters, too, people who said that the nation needs renewable energy and that wind power is a good source.
It would have been the state’s first commercial wind farm.
For all the hoopla, though, Northwest Wind Developers never really did say just how tall the turbines would be or exactly where they would be, or provide other details the utilities commission had requested at a February hearing in Raleigh.
The failure to provide a complete application is the reason for dismissing the case, according to an order issued yesterday by the utilities commission. Northwest could file a new application later, the order said.
The dismissal was not unexpected.
In an interview last week, Richard Calhoun of Northwest Wind Developers said he couldn’t spend the money to continue the studies the utilities commission requested.
It would have cost more than $100,000 for the additional studies, he said.
Calhoun, a former Ashe County commissioner, said last week that he understood that the application would likely be dismissed.
He didn’t return phone messages yesterday.
Maria Whaley, a spokeswoman for Friends of Ashe, a group formed to fight the wind farm, said that the utilities commission made a wise choice.
“It was not a complete application from the beginning,” Whaley said.
But she said that the yearlong fight served a good purpose in getting people talking, especially about conservation. Because of the controversy, Ashe County has adopted an ordinance to regulate wind-energy systems, limiting the turbines to 199-feet tall, measured to the tip of a blade.
Still unresolved is the issue of the state’s Ridge Law, which prohibits tall buildings or structures on protected ridges. The public staff of the utilities commission said that the Ridge Law would prevent a wind farm such as the one proposed. But wind advocates say they don’t think that the Ridge Law is a barrier to wind energy because of an exception for windmills. The law has never been tested in court.
The utilities commission considered nearly 850 pages of testimony and motions in the case. County commissioners held public hearings, too. As people waited in their seats for one county hearing, neighbors argued back and forth.
“It has people talking about conservation like never before in this region so it’s opened people’s eyes,” Whaley said. She said that Friends of Ashe County supports small systems, but the proposed wind farm was too big.
She said she suspects that other developers will try to build a commercial wind farm in Ashe. “Now we’re prepared for that with our local ordinance and now we need to look at it on a statewide level,” she said.
By Monte Mitchell
27 July 2007
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