Pulaski County has enacted what may be the first ordinance in Virginia to regulate the construction, operation and decommissioning of large wind energy facilities.
Kevin Byrd, executive director of New River Valley Planning District Commission, told members of the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors the county already has an ordinance to regulate small wind energy facilities. However, he said the new Wind Energy Facility Ordinance for larger facilities is possibly the first one in the state.
The purpose of the ordinance is to regulate large wind energy facilities to “promote and protect the public health, safety and welfare, while encouraging renewable energy development and deployment within the county.”
Community Development Director Shaun Utt said the PDC and Pulaski County Planning Commission have spent several months developing the ordinance, which will be incorporated into the Pulaski County Zoning Ordinance.
The wind ordinance addresses permit acquisition, wind turbine design and installation, setback and zoning district requirements, sound limitations, liability and decommissioning of facilities no longer in use.
The ordinance applies to four types of wind energy turbine facilities:
• Small: a single tower with a total capacity of 20 kilowatts (kW) or less and no more than 60 feet in height. Carries a $150 permit fee.
• Medium: one or more wind turbine towers with a total capacity of 20-100 kW and no more than 150 feet tall. Carries a $300 permit fee.
• Large: one or more wind turbine towers with a total capacity of more than 100 kW. No height limitations are addressed for large facilities, but Byrd said he has heard of towers up to 400 feet in height. Carries a $2,500 permit fee.
• Temporary meteorological (met) towers: These towers are constructed at potential wind energy facility sites in order to assess wind resources available at the site and collect meteorological data. Permitted by right for two years, these towers are limited to a height of 198 feet. Carries a $25 permit fee.
The ordinance allows wind turbines of all types in every zoning district, but some require a special use permit in certain districts.
Small facilities are permitted by right in Agriculture A-1; Commercial CM-1; Rural R-1and RR, and Industrial I-1 districts.
Medium facilities are permitted by right in A-1 and I-1 districts, and temporary met towers are permitted in A-1, C-1, CM-1, R-1, RR and I-1 districts. A special use permit is required for all large facilities, regardless of zoning district.
The supervisors voted to make several changes to the draft ordinance presented to the board.
First, setbacks from adjacent property lines were made the same for properties with occupied buildings and those without occupied buildings.
Setback requirements were proposed to be less stringent if adjacent properties did not have occupied buildings.
The supervisors felt this could infringe upon the rights of those property owners should they decide to construct a building after the turbine facility was already in place.
If you’re going to build a 230-foot tower you should be at least that far from the property line, not just 150 feet,” said Ingles District Supervisor Ranny Akers. Otherwise “it’s infringing on another person’s property rights, and if it falls, it’s on someone else’s property.”
Being a former law enforcement officer, Akers said he is aware that tree limbs growing over property lines cause enough problems without having towers compound the issue.
The other draft change concerned the amount of liability insurance required to cover bodily injury and property damage. The supervisors instructed county staff to reduce the amount of coverage required for small and medium facilities. $5 million had been proposed for all facilities, but the supervisors felt that amount was too high for small and medium turbines.
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