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Turbine interest grows in Currituck; County mulls rules for wind-power generators

Currituck’s strong coastal winds are quickly turning the county into a magnet for companies hoping to sell electricity-generating wind turbines.

Several companies have expressed interest in selling wind turbines in Currituck, including one headquartered in Spain and another from Maryland.

County Planning Director Ben Woody said some of the companies are interested in installing turbines for use at single-family homes.

“They would be small turbines that just generate power for that particular house,” he said.

But others are interested in selling larger turbines capable of generating enough electricity for wholesale purchase by power companies. Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Power in fact is encouraging the use of wind turbines, and is offering customers energy credits for their use.

The only holdup to the use of wind power in Currituck right now is the lack of a county ordinance controlling turbines’ placement, installation and use.

“The only thing even close our ordinance allows is windmills,” Woody said, adding that the devices are generally only up to 35 feet in height and used to move water or crush rock.

“They are kind of a dated technology,” he said. “In a sense, the wind-turbine push is so new our ordinance hasn’t addressed it yet.”

To prepare for the county’s future as a wind-power producer, Woody’s staff is proposing an ordinance that would require a special-use permit before a turbine could be installed. The idea of permits, which would require a public hearing before the county Board of Commissioners, isn’t a hit with everyone.

“Some of the companies that want to sell the smaller-scale residential turbines would prefer not to do it with permit. They see permits adding bureaucracy,” Woody said. “Larger-scale producers or installers of wind turbines don’t seem to mind a special-use permit. They don’t have a problem with it.”

Woody said wind turbines, particularly those used in Europe, can be 500 feet in height. But turbines that would likely be installed in Currituck would be less than 200 feet, he said.

A good example of the type of wind turbine that might be installed in Currituck is one 160 feet tall being erected in neighboring Camden County by private security contractor Blackwater USA, Woody said.

“That’s as big as we’d see in this area,” he said.

Woody said wind turbines have evolved to a point where they make little noise.

“Twenty years ago, they were noisy…. (Today, one) sounds like a refrigerator running,” he said.

Woody also said the latest turbine designs can withstand very strong winds. If a hurricane were strong enough to blow one of them down, it would also likely demolish the homes in the area, he said.

In addition, the new turbines are designed to collapse inward when they are falling. That poses less risk for neighbors than if a turbine fell sideways, Woody said.

Probably the biggest concern Currituck residents will have about wind turbines will be over aesthetics.

“I don’t think folks mind turbines placed in farm fields or agricultural areas,” Woody said. But few will want wind turbines strung up on every lot in a subdivision, he said.

“I don’t think that will happen any time soon,” Woody said.

Woody said the county could decide to only allow wind turbines on smaller lots.

“We could have a minimum lot size as low as an acre, or as high as 10 acres, as a way as a way to control where they are placed,” he said.

Earlier this month, the issue of wind turbines came before the Currituck Planning Board. The board raised a number of questions but delayed taking action until its Dec. 11 meeting. One of the issues the board will decide is whether wind turbines will be allowed in all county zoning districts.

East Coast Windpower wants the county to allow wind turbines in all zoning districts. Under its proposal, no turbine could be taller than 60 feet but there would be no setback restrictions on where turbines could be placed.

The ordinance county officials will develop is likely to allow turbines in most zoning districts but require setback restrictions.

One factor driving the interest in wind turbine technology is the active involvement of power companies like Dominion Power. A law passed by North Carolina lawmakers earlier this year requires investor-owned utility companies to have at least 12.5 percent of their annual electricity output coming from renewable energy sources by 2021. The same law requires municipal utility companies to have at least 10 percent of their electricity output coming from renewable energy sources by 2018.

Kurt Swanson, regulatory and pricing manager for Dominion Power, said the only turbine currently in operation in his company’s North Carolina territory is at Coquina Beach near Nags Head.

“It is providing electricity to the National Park Service,” he said.

Swanson believes favorable regulations such as the North Carolina law will dramatically increase the use of wind turbines in the area. Rules were also recently adopted making it easier for customers generating turbine power to hook up to Dominion’s power grid, he said.

Dominion is encouraging the use of wind turbines, Swanson said.

“We’re wholeheartedly supporting this through the inter-connection process,” he said.

Dominion Power also participates, he said, in a net metering program in which electricity generated by the turbine is subtracted from the customer’s bill.

“Net metering effectively allows the meter to run backwards to give credit to customers based on retail rates,” Swanson said.

Is the answer blowin’ in the wind?

Currituck officials are considering adopting an ordinance to allow the installation of wind turbines.

Dominion Power will offer energy credits and buy power from wind turbine owners.

By John Henderson
Staff Writer

Daily Advance

25 November 2007