Clean-energy generators popular if not too close to home
Though most people agree that North Carolina needs to develop cleaner energy sources, the enthusiasm apparently ends at the backyard.
Carteret County residents turned out at a public hearing Monday night to raise questions about the prospect of living near wind turbines that would dwarf the Cape Lookout lighthouse and stand taller than the Wachovia building in downtown Raleigh.
After hearing residents’ concerns about the proposal to build a commercial-scale wind farm in coastal Carteret, county commissioners passed a nine-month moratorium on issuing permits for wind turbines. They asked planners to develop an ordinance regulating windmills and addressing residents’ concerns.
Ernie Filep of Gloucester, head of a group seeking the moratorium, urged county leaders to find answers to the many questions residents had. He said no one in the county would get cheaper electricity as a result of the project.
“These turbines will definitely pollute the coast of Carteret County and most of the coast, not with pollution but with junk,” Filep said.
Wind turbines, though they produce no greenhouse gas emissions, are giant structures that can generate noise from the rotating blades. They are also considered a hazard to migrating birds.
As green energy developers look to tap North Carolina’s potential for wind energy, the debate over the turbines’ location is likely to spread. State leaders have endorsed the need for renewable energy sources to supplement traditional power plants. And the U.S. Department of Energy ranks the state high for potential wind energy.
“In a lot of ways, win, lose or draw on the Carteret County proposal, it’s a good thing this discussion is taking place,” said Steve Kalland, director of the N.C. Solar Center. “We need to be having a discussion about where it makes sense to have a wind project. And nothing crystallizes a conversation like a real proposal.”
The wind farm in Carteret is the proposal of Nelson and Dianna Paul of Raleigh. The Pauls have an application pending with the N.C. Utilities Commission to build three windmills that would generate 4.5 megawatts of electricity on farmland in Bettie, east of Morehead City. By far the state’s largest commercial-scale wind farm to date, Golden Wind Farm would sell power to Progress Energy.
Last year, North Carolina leaders passed a law requiring that utilities supply at least 12.5 percent of electricity demand from cleaner sources by 2020. That has created a new market for prospective developers of alternative energy and forced counties to consider how they should manage proposed projects.
In January, several proposals by private developers to build wind turbines prompted the Currituck County commissioners to begin regulating where such projects could be built and how tall they could be.
“Everybody is talking about being green and alternative energy,” said Dan Scanlon, Currituck County manager. “Everybody supports it unless it’s next door. You’ve got to step up.”
The Currituck ordinance requires that commercial-size wind turbines be located on at least 25 acres and be set back a distance of at least 1.5 times the structure’s height from the property line. For example, a 400-foot-tall wind turbine would have to be set back 600 feet on all sides. Different standards apply to smaller projects.
By Wade Rawlins
4 March 2008
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