Fears of spoiled views and banged-up birds have led to years of appeals and at least one outright ban of wind turbines in some places.
A different story has played out in Currituck County over the past five months, leading to one of the first countywide wind energy ordinances in North Carolina. Approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners Tuesday night, the ordinance makes erecting a single wind turbine up to 120 feet tall a relatively easy process.
Larger projects would require commissioner approval, and in some cases a public hearing and environmental impact study.
The first of several people interested in harnessing Currituck’s coastal wind approached the county in September, but there was no ordinance to address it, said Planning Director Ben Woody. The planning department spent months researching wind energy, holding public meetings and coming up with a permitting process.
“We were very, very slow and cautious,” Woody said. The plan was to write a progressive ordinance “with precautions in place.”
Wind turbines from 121 feet high to 250 feet high, for example, require a 5-acre lot and approval by the Board of Commissioners. “Utility scale” projects – one or more turbines 251 to 500 feet tall – will require at least 25 acres, a public hearing, commissioner approval and an environmental impact study.
A single wind turbine up to 120 feet tall, which must be on a lot of at least 20,000 square feet, requires only approval by county planning staff.
“It’s the best local wind ordinance we have in North Carolina now,” said Paul Quinlan, senior associate with the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association. The Raleigh-based nonprofit promotes alternate energy sources across the state.
Quinlan said Currituck is the fourth county in North Carolina to adopt a wind energy ordinance. Camden, Ashe and Watauga counties also have laws, he said.
The town of Blowing Rock in the western part of the state outlawed wind turbines last year, saying they interfere with mountain views. In Highland County, Va., plans for a wind farm with more than a dozen turbines each standing about 400 feet tall got state approval with some stringent restrictions late last year. The approval followed several years of opposition from those with environmental and aesthetic concerns.
In North Carolina, opposition has largely occurred in the mountain region, Quinlan said. He attributed the lack of it in Currituck to a “well-
At a public hearing in Currituck on Tuesday night, no one asked the county to deny the ordinance, said Board of Commissioners Chairman Barry Nelms.
Similarly, a public hearing to allow wind turbines on a case-by-case basis in Kill Devil Hills’ commercial district in October brought out around 20 people who spoke in favor of the plan.
Three out of four members of the Board of Commissioners agreed, giving the Outer Banks Brewing Station permission to erect a turbine at the restaurant five years after its first request was denied.
Coastal and mountain areas are said to be ideal places to harness wind.
“The geography of Currituck County is very conducive to having wind turbines, particularly along our shoreline,” Nelms said.
Farmers with large tracts of land could profit from them, he said. Wind turbines come with tax credits, and their energy can be sold to power companies.
A recent state law requires utility companies to get a portion of their power from renewable energy sources by 2018.
By Kristin Davis
25 January 2008
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