The pros and cons of building wind turbines near public roads took center-stage at last week’s Grant County Commission meeting.
Attending the meeting were a Grassy Ridge Road couple worried about turbine “ice throws,” plus a pair of representatives from a company erecting the towers.
Grassy Ridge resident Bruce Halgren had previously spoken to commissioners about his concerns over “ice throws.” This is the phenomenon where ice builds up on turbine blades, eventually breaking free and falling to the ground.
At a previous meeting, Halgren told commissioners the state Public Service Commission had barred NedPower and Shell WindEnergy from locating four turbines closer than 820 feet from homes. This step was to protect homes from flying ice.
Halgren believes a similar buffer zone should exist along roadways.
He said one tower is located 117 feet from a roadway, with two others within 200 feet. He said turbine blades from these towers will overhang traffic passing along Grassy Ridge Road.
During a previous meeting with commissioners, Halgren asked officials to look into the issue.
“I just wanted to know where we stand,” Halgren said at last week’s meeting.
Commissioner Jim Wilson said officials made at least a cursory investigation into the issue. Based on information he’s gathered, Wilson doubts if “ice throws” will be a problem.
That is because company officials have assured him turbines posing an “ice throw” threat will be automatically shut down prior to a problem arising.
Wilson is also confident the state PSC will take steps to assure no one is endangered by “ice throws.”
Supporting Wilson’s position were two representatives from Dominion Resources, a company which owns a share of the project.
DR’s Robert Orndorff told commissioners the company values its reputation as a good neighbor and will guard against any “ice throw” situations. He said studies are underway to assess whatever danger may exist from “several” turbines.
“We will not operate any turbine that creates a hazardous condition for the general public,” he stated.
A second DR representative, Emil Abram, cited the company’s long-term interest in safety at all of its facilities. He stated: “We have no interest in creating a safety hazard.”
Orndorff said an example of the company’s willingness to be a good neighbor can be seen in efforts to fix construction-related damage on Grassy Ridge Road.
This damage has been a bone of contention for some residents.
He said the company worked with the state Department of Highways to have the road temporarily fixed with a “tar and chip” surface. He said additional repairs will be considered once the windfarm project is completed.
“We will be back on the road in the spring,” Orndorff explained. “It is better than the road I live on.”
Halgren welcomed the road repairs and DR’s stated willingness to assure motorists’ safety. At the same time, he cautioned the whole wind power industry is relatively new to the state and, as a result, regulators are somewhat uncertain about a variety of safety issues.
He suggested concerns about “ice throws” could have been avoided had the project developer made earlier announcements about shutting down turbines during icy conditions.
Halgren said it was a PSC staffer and not residents who first raised questions about possible “ice throws.”
“It is in everyone’s’ best interests to prevent any safety hazards,” said Commissioner Jim Cole.
Commissioner Charlie Goldizen Jr., welcomed statements from the DR representatives about both road repairs and turbine safety. He said the county’s past dealings with the company have always shown them to value safety and good community relations. He said road damages caused by construction equipment are an unavoidable byproduct whenever such work takes place.
“It (DR’s activities) are not a bad-neighbor thing,” Goldizen said. “It (road damages) just come with the package … of development.”
Orndorff said the first turbine to be completed was ready on Aug. 30, although no electricity is expected to be produced until next month. The company is hoping to have a media day sometime in late October.
As of last week’s meeting, eight turbines had been completed. A total of 20 could be done by the end of October.
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