Couple: Officials slow to voice concerns
BEAUFORT – A Raleigh couple whose proposal to construct a windmill farm in Down East Carteret County has drawn recent controversy say the moratorium the county has now put in place for wind turbines and other towers was the first indication they had from the county of its concerns.
The Carteret County Board of Commissioners approved a nine-month moratorium this week on the permitting of electricity-generating wind turbines, towers and other tall structures while the county staff devises regulations for their use in the county.
The action leaves Nelson and Dianna Paul wondering what the impact will be on their plans to put three wind turbines on their property in the Bettie community.
While they haven’t yet submitted any formal plans to the county, they proceeded with an application to the N.C. Utilities Commission in September 2007 with the understanding that the project met all county requirements.
It wasn’t until last month that they learned the county was considering a moratorium and possible new regulations for wind turbines and similar-type tall structures.
“Up until February, there was no indication the county was interested in this (issue) at all,” Nelson Paul said.
Meanwhile, he said, they have made efforts over the past 18 months to ensure their plans were in conformance with zoning requirements and advise county officials of their plans.
“We didn’t do this in a vacuum. We did it with proper investigation. We did it with proper discussion,” Nelson Paul said.
The Pauls released e-mail correspondence last week that shows messages with the county dating back to August 2006, when the county was developing the Down East Conservation Ordinance addressing development in an unzoned region of the county.
Paul noted in an e-mail at that time that the Down East area has wind suitable for development as an alternative energy source and expressed concern about height restrictions for Down East that would prevent the development of wind energy.
Corresponding e-mail from County Manager John Langdon and the county planning department indicated that the new ordinance would not interfere with wind towers.
A transcript of comments between Paul and Commissioner Jonathan Robinson during a Sept. 11, 2006, meeting says the same.
The correspondence released by the Pauls also includes contact with the planning department in July and August 2007, just prior to their application to the Utilities Commission.
Paul said that had they been advised of concerns then, they could have put plans on hold until they knew what the county planned to do.
“When we checked with the county in July, had the county indicated then that they were going to have the slightest concern with the project, we would have held up,” he said.
County Manager John Langdon said the e-mail correspondence being used to criticize the county was sent in an entirely different context than the current situation. The August 2006 message was sent at the time that the county was drafting the Down East Conservation ordinance, which addressed all development Down East and not wind turbines specifically.
Paul expressed concerns about height restrictions Down East and whether they would include wind towers. The county responded that under current ordinances and the DECO ordinance being developed at the time, the towers he suggested would not be affected.
And while Paul mentioned a wind generator he planned to build on his property, it was of a smaller scale than what is now proposed. The 1 kW and 10 kW wind generators of up to 110 to 120 feet mentioned then are much different than the three industrial turbines being discussed now, Langdon said.
“Maybe we would have (expressed concern) if we had any idea they were talking about structures nearly 500 feet in the middle of a residential community,” Langdon said.
And it’s only been since the Pauls went to the Utilities Commission that the community has reviewed the plans and voiced its concerns. And along with the discussions, Langdon said, the county has learned of potential issues related to wind farm projects.
“He didn’t coordinate this project or try to get community support for this project before he marched up to Raleigh (to the Utilities Commission), and what the county commissioners faced rather recently was public outcry about potential public safety and environmental health concerns, which they’ve discovered are controversies throughout the world where they are considering other wind turbine projects.”
Langdon also noted that in 2006, the state had not adopted legislation requiring utilities to meet a certain percentage of their energy demand with cleaner energy sources, putting more emphasis on alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.
While the county may not have noted any problems when Paul mentioned the smaller project in his initial e-mail in the fall of 2006, Paul counters that the county officials knew of the larger plans by July 2007 and still didn’t express concerns.
Opposition to the proposed Golden Wind Farm project surfaced after the Pauls filed the application the Utilities Commission to permit them to make wind energy available for public use.
Residents, particularly those with homes and property nearby, have voiced concerns about public safety if a turbine were to fall or malfunction during a storm or hurricane as well as effects from noise and vibrations.
Paul said their application to the Utilities Commission includes the possibility of windmill towers up to 500 feet tall, which includes the height to the tip of the blade span. However, he said, final plans would not come until later, and it may prove more economical to use towers less than 350 feet tall total height.
In comparison, he said, there is now a 300-foot cell tower in Otway that is adjacent to residences and roadways.
Paul said current ordinances would allow for their project as designed and imposing regulations that could restrict the plans would further deter wind energy efforts.
“This is a resource that is underutilized, and this is really an opportunity for Down East to develop it,” Paul said.
The Pauls have established a Web site on the proposed project that includes links to the e-mail correspondence. The Web site address is www.goldenwindfarm.com.
By Jannette Pippin
Daily News Staff
9 March 2008
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