Coastal breezes and a new state law are attracting the first plans for tall wind turbines in northeastern North Carolina, but success depends on their effect on coastal views.
Blackwater USA is set to get a permit next week for a 150-foot wind turbine, the first under Camden County’s new wind turbine ordinance.
In Currituck County, Powells Point resident Dean Carrico was permitted last month to erect a 35-foot wind turbine and seeks a variance to elevate it to 60 feet, where it will be more effective. He also plans to sell and erect wind turbines elsewhere.
In Dare County, a single wind turbine produces about half the energy needed to run a typical home, good enough to prompt Dominion North Carolina Power to connect it to the power grid.
Maps show the coast is a good place to generate wind-powered energy, but opponents say tall turbines could spoil coastal scenery and weaken tourism. In June, the western North Carolina resort town of Blowing Rock banned wind turbines over concerns that the towers would clutter mountain views.
But a new North Carolina law requires utility companies to buy 10 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2018. The law is intended to create a market for alternative power production. The state and federal governments are offering significant tax credits.
“The big question is will the people of North Carolina accept something like this,” said Steve Kalland, director of the North Carolina Solar Center.
Wind turbines could be set up in the Currituck Sound a good distance from either shoreline, he said. On land, a farmer with an open tract could lease his land, earning about $2,000 per turbine and still be able to farm, Kalland said.
Commercial-sized turbines would typically be 1.5 megawatts but could be as much as 5 megawatts and stand about 300 feet tall, he said. Wind turbines work best high in the air and over water.
“Every tree and every blade of grass adds friction,” Kalland said.
The Blackwater turbine, small at 50 kilowatts, would feed electricity into the power grid, earning credits that reduce the company’s power bill, said Dave Parks, permit officer for Camden County. The plan is to try one turbine and erect others if it works well, Parks said.
Camden County’s ordinance, written in response to Blackwater’s interest, limits turbines to 150 feet, too short to get the best results, Kalland said. Wind turbines could be controlled much like cell towers, he said.
Camden commissioners can allow taller towers, according to the ordinance.
Currituck plans to have a wind turbine ordinance written by November. Carrico got his permit through an old windmill ordinance.
“We want to be proactive but we want to be cautious,” said Ben Woody, planning director for Currituck County.
The Currituck County Tourism Advisory Board has not taken a stance.
“It would depend on where they’re placed,” said Diane Sawyer, spokeswoman for Currituck County.
In Virginia, only one commercial wind project is under consideration – in Highland County, about six hours west of Norfolk. County officials there approved a plan to build as many as 22 turbines atop two mountain ridges by amending existing local ordinances.
The moves angered opponents, who sued the county in hopes of blocking the project. Last month, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of Highland County.
Overall, Virginia has endorsed wind energy as a viable alternative-energy option. Under the recently completed Virginia Energy Plan, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine expressed support for future wind projects, if developed in appropriate places and without undue environmental harm.
Coastal counties have mean wind speeds around 15 mph at 90 feet in the air, according to a wind power map from the North Carolina Solar Center.
The 70-foot wind turbine rated at 2.5 kilowatts in Dare County generates 6,000 kilowatt hours per year. A typical home uses about 12,000 kilowatt hours per year.
Staff writer Scott Harper contributed to this story.
By Jeff Hampton
14 October 2007
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