Roanoke County will take its first steps into the contentious world of wind-energy regulation Tuesday.
The county’s planning commission has scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. on proposals for small-scale wind-energy generation – dealing primarily with systems for individual homes or businesses.
The hearing will be held in the Roanoke County Administration Center.
Although these small generators have not drawn the same attention or debate as large, industrial wind-turbine farms, this will be the first time the county has considered regulations for any kind of wind-energy generation.
Proposals for regulating the big turbines are expected to be considered in March.
The planned rules have been 18 months in the making and have undergone numerous revisions – and challenges.
Windsor Hills District Supervisor Ed Elswick has said he doesn’t believe the planning commission has gathered enough data, particularly on large utility-scale turbine farms, to help the board of supervisors come to an informed decision on regulations.
Although no formal proposal has yet been presented to the county, a prominent wind energy company– Invenergy – has announced plans for a utility-size wind turbine farm at a site on Poor Mountain in Elswick’s district.
Interest groups have already issued statements favoring and opposing the planned wind farm.
During the past two months, Elswick has been lobbying his fellow supervisors to sponsor a forum or symposium on the subject, to hear impartial experts from universities and elsewhere on the effects of such systems.
The rest of the board, however, favored proceeding in the usual way – having the planning commission conduct its research and make recommendations – rather than trying to study the issue independently. Some supervisors, however, said they would be willing to attend a symposium on wind farms if some other entity – a college, perhaps – sponsored it.
Roanoke County Deputy Director of Planning Philip Thompson said the commission this week will be considering only what it is defining as “small” and “micro” wind-energy systems.
“Micro” systems are designed to be mounted on a house or other building and generate 10 kilowatts or less of electricity. They can be no more than 15 feet taller that the highest point of the structure on which they’re placed.
“Small” systems can generate no more than 50 kilowatts of power for residential uses, and no more than 100 kilowatts for other uses. They must be located on lots that are 1 acre or larger on towers between 60 and 100 feet high, depending on lot size.
As a practical matter, state law limits the generation of power for residential “net metering service” – which means interconnecting with the power grid – to 10 kilowatts for residential use.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Virginia households use an average of 1,170 kilowatt-hours of electricity each month. A 10-kilowatt wind turbine would have to operate at peak capacity for 117 hours each month to meet that average.
Details of the proposal that the planning commission will consider are on the county’s website, roanokecountyva.gov.
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