With size and health impacts of potential wind turbines in the county, as well as proposed setbacks, the top concerns Wednesday during a special meeting of the County Planning Commission, the wind turbine portion of the county’s proposed tall structures ordinance is proving to take priority over communication towers.
The commission met at the Western Park Community Center to get comments on the proposed tall structures ordinance, which includes wind turbines and communication towers, from residents in the western part of the county.
The planning commission will hold two more similar meetings – at 5 p.m. June 19 at in the boardroom of the ad-ministration building in Beaufort and at 6 p.m. June 25 at Smyrna School in Smyrna.
Commission members have made few comments on the articles of the proposed ordinance so far, which currently addresses different scales of wind turbines and suggested setbacks of the towers from property lines.
The county is currently under a nine-month moratorium on wind turbines and other similar large structures. The moratorium was enacted in March and will expire before the end of the year.
Planning Commission Chairman Harry Archer said the board is collecting public input to help commission members later make suggestions on the proposed ordinance, which he called a work in progress.
However, just before the meeting was adjourned, commission member Al Williams shared his thoughts on the proposed setbacks.
“I think the setback should probably be extended a little bit,” he said during commissioners’ comments. “I’m not sure how much, but they seem too short.”
The proposed ordinance currently suggests different set-backs for different types, or scales, of wind turbines. A small, roof-mounted system can be up to 60 feet tall and placed on any lot of record and must adhere to no setbacks, while a small, non-roof-mounted system can be 75 feet tall on a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet with a set-back of 1.5 feet for each foot of height from any property line, private or public right of way or access easement.
A large system can be up to 199 feet tall on a minimum lot size of 5 acres with a setback of 2 feet for each foot of height, and a utility-scale system can reach 500 feet on a minimum of 25 acres with a setback of 2.5 feet for each foot of height.
The wind turbine debate, as well as the ensuing moratorium and proposed ordinance, was sparked by a wind farm of 4.5 megawatts for 33 acres on Golden Farm Road in the Down East community of Bettie, which would consist of three turbines at more than 300 feet tall.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, the planning commission heard from people who have attended nearly every county meeting regarding wind turbines and the proposed ordinance while only two residents from the western end of the county spoke.
Utility-scale wind farm developer Tim Conboy with Acciona Energy of Troy, N.Y., who attended other public comment sessions and offered the county assistance in developing the ordinance, said when developing a site, his company goes into the community to work with residents and the local government.
“I want people to know that someone in the industry understands that they have concerns,” he said.
The proposed ordinance had good setbacks, he said, and would give protection in the “unlikely event a turbine should fall.”
Following up comments he made during the board’s last meeting, commission member Robin Comer asked about exactly what incentives wind industry developers were given for building wind farms.
Mr. Conboy said there were federal tax credits for every kilowatt generated and that other tax credits may exist but are decided state-by-state.
In North Carolina, the incentive is that the state will eventually seek out alternative energy developers and producers in order to meet the its goal of having its utility companies generate more than 12 percent of the state’s energy from renewable resources by 2020. That benchmark is better known as Senate Bill 3, which was passed last year.
Mr. Comer said he had been wondering if the incentives were “so good that you (developers) come to little Carteret County to build something that’s not so good.”
“But if the incentives are based on what you produce, that’s different,” he said. “It’s a real incentive to make a power system that works well.”
Charles Renda Jr. and Ernie Filep of Otway represent the Responsible Citizens for Responsible Energy group that has formed in opposition of the Golden Farm Road project. The men spoke separately during public comment but both cited concerns that the suggested setbacks would not be enough to protect residents living near a wind farm from health problems, such as wind turbine syndrome, epilepsy and vibroacoustic disease, caused by shadow flicker, noise and vibrations from turbines.
Mr. Renda, the vice president of the citizens group, said his research on the topic found that doctors who are experts in the health effects of wind turbines recommended turbines be placed in “remote” areas with setbacks of 1 to 1.5 miles from property lines to protect neighbors from adverse health impacts.
“I’m not concerned about them (the turbines) falling down, it’s not typical,” Mr. Renda said. “My concern is what is going to happen to the people.”
“Reasonable siting is the only way to alleviate it (health impacts).”
Mr. Filep agreed and added that there were more incentives for wind developers than were previously mentioned, such as green credits and tax write offs, that can be passed from one owner of a renewable energy generated to another.
Stephanie Mischovich, a resident of Golden Farm Road who has also attended several county meetings on the topic, said she recently attended a conference in South Carolina on offshore wind energy potential along the southeast coast of the U.S.
While there, she said she learned the potential for off-shore wind energy is “very large,” but also that certification standards for offshore turbines are not recommended for hurricane-prone areas, such as the southeast.
Additionally, many insurance companies that cover utility-scale wind developments won’t cover projects in hurricane zones, she said.
Encouraging wind developers to large, wide-open, remote areas in the county, like Open Grounds Farm, may help the issue, Ms. Mischovich said, as well as encouraging the state to push for wind development in its sounds, which is where the greatest wind is.
“Instead of lots of 1.5 megawatt turbines, let’s maximize remote areas to help the state reach its benchmark,” she said referring to Senate Bill 3.
Joseph Betz of Cape Carteret said he’d been following the debate and doing research on the Internet and felt that residents have been “lulled” into thinking wind is cheap energy.
“I don’t think people have a full understanding of what Mr. Paul is proposing,” he said, referring to Nelson Paul of Raleigh and Bettie who is proposing the project on Golden Farm Road.
The project would be heavy industry and the turbines would be equivalent to 35-story buildings, he said.
“A rural area in Bettie is not an appropriate site for (something of) that height,” Mr. Betz said.
Joe Idacavage of Emerald Isle and with Accredited Solar and Wind, said he built small-scale residential wind systems and was worried about having a client with 15 acres and 90-foot pine trees and being limited to erecting a turbine to 75 feet due to the ordinance.
County Planning Assistant Director Jim Jennings said there would be a variance procedure for a situation like that where neighbors would be notified of the variance request but would not vote on the matter.
Following the public comment session, commission member Comer voiced interest in obtaining an aerial map of the county and seeing what properties would be available for utility-scale wind turbines if setbacks were set at a mile or more.
Commission members Eric Gregson, David Heath, David Furma and Judson Walton were not in attendance.
By Lori Wynn
30 May 2008
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