Winds of change are blowing for Bland County.
At the regular meeting on Oct. 26 the Bland County Board of Supervisors passed a wind energy ordinance in a 3-1 vote.
Joel Cagle, county building official, was present at the meeting to recommend the board pass the ordinance and field any questions the public might have concerning it. Cagle and the Planning Commission have been researching, drafting, and revising the ordinance for about two years. He thinks the ordinance is “welcoming enough to a turbine company, but restrictive enough to protect the citizens.”
The ordinance allows residents to have up to two wind turbines per tax map land parcel at no more than 100 feet each and 35 feet for agricultural land. The reasoning behind two windmills is that one will more than sufficiently power a home and two will more than sufficiently power a farm operation. Any more than two windmills will generate a commercial amount of power. This means the turbines are producing more energy than the consumer can use and therefore, by law, the providing power company must purchase the unused energy back.
County Administrator Eric Workman said, “It’s an ordinance that allows the citizens to be proactive about wind energy, but also to provide safety.”
Workman anticipates farmers to utilize wind energy most. At the meeting, local farmer Dewey Bogle had a few questions to get cleared up before he eventually placed his support behind the ordinance. The idea of the county restricting what he could and could not erect on his own farm did not sit well with him. Bogle wanted to be sure that he could in fact erect more than two wind turbines, at higher than 35 feet, if he wanted to on his farm. Once Cagle explained that yes, he could erect more than two over 35 feet, as long as he applied for a variance and followed the consequential commercial guidelines, Bogle wholeheartedly supported the edict.
Gerhard Schoenthal also addressed the board during the public hearing, recommending strongly that the county adopt the ordinance. He specifically noted the substantial tax benefits wind energy would bring to the county. Households that switch to alternative energy sources such as wind are eligible for a 2.1cents/kilowatt hour tax break from the federal government under the Production Tax Credit legislation. In addition, rural communities that have already constructed wind turbines have seen an increase in local revenue, which they have used for renovating schools and improving infrastructure.
Commissioner of Revenue Cindy Wright said the county has not ironed out the specifics of how the wind turbines will be assessed.
“Tazewell is a little bit ahead of us,” Wright said, referring to the wind ordinance Tazewell County passed earlier this year. “We are kind of waiting to see what they’re going to do.”
Supervisor Karen Hodock voted against passing the ordinance. “It’s not that I am opposed to windmills,” said Hodock later in a phone interview. “I just want to make sure it’s the right decision for Bland County.”
Hodock reiterated that she was not opposed to business in Bland County, but just the opposite. She worries wind turbines might also have an adverse effect on the county’s potential for tourism. Some people think they are an eyesore. Current research on wind turbines’ effect on tourism, especially in mountainous regions, is varied. Some studies show little or no effect, while others claim turbines as an attraction for tourists.
“It’s not that I don’t trust the Planning Commission. I appreciate all their hard work,” she said. “I just want to be really cautious.”
She is specifically concerned with preserving the county’s scenic ridgelines. Wind farm construction in Bland County’s federally protected forests will not be permitted.
A decrease in property value is also a concern many people have when constructing wind turbines. To counter this, one of the provisions of the ordinance is “setback.” There are regulations, depending on the size of the windmill, of how close it can sit to the property line. If someone wants to place his windmill closer to the property line than the ordinance allows, he must get written permission from his neighbors or affected property owners first.
Hodock said she would rather see wind turbines allowed on a case-by-case basis rather than a blanket permission from the ordinance.
In a later interview, Cagle explained that if a big company such as British Petroleum or Dominion wanted to come to Bland County and erect a large wind farm, the public would have two opportunities to address any concerns they might have—once before the Planning Commission and again before the Board of Supervisors. Allowing wind energy to come into the county will also provide jobs, county officials said. There will be jobs associated both with construction of the turbines as well as maintenance and upkeep of the operations. No companies have approached the county about developing it for wind energy, said Workman.
Initial costs for constructing a small windmill can range anywhere from $600 to $10,000. Residential windmills are, on average, 70 feet tall. Industrial-size wind turbines, like those manufactured by General Electric in the Midwest, can cost millions of dollars and stand more than 500 feet tall.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever have any windmills here,” said Board Chairman Henry Blessing, “but we have the ordinance in place if someone wants one.”
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