Small-scale wind-energy turbines would require a special-use permit under most applications under proposed regulations that will go to the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.
The county’s planning commission made some modifications Tuesday night to an ordinance that’s been 18 months in the making and sent it along to the supervisors.
The measure didn’t address large- and utility-scale wind turbine farms, although almost as many people spoke to the board about those as the small-scale generators that were the issue before the commission.
The large turbines regulations are scheduled to come up for a public hearing next month.
Tuesday’s meeting offered a glimpse into a likely scenario for the next one as opponents and proponents offered contradictory views of the impact of the large turbines.
Although no formal proposal has been presented to the county, a company called Invenergy has announced that it hopes to erect a number of 400-foot wind turbines on Poor Mountain.
It has to get Federal Aviation Administration approval for the location as a first step – something that is still in limbo – before coming to the county with a proposal.
Some months before that plan was announced, the county planning staff already was working on an overarching wind-energy policy to be integrated into the county’s planning ordinance.
Originally, all of the regulations – for small- and large-scale wind energy generation – were to be presented as a package. Last month, however, Supervisor Ed Elswick, who represents residents living near the proposed Invenergy site, asked both the board of supervisors and planning commission to step back and conduct a forum or symposium on the large turbines.
The rest of the supervisors rejected that suggestion and directed the planning commission to proceed with its deliberations. By that time, however, it was too late to meet the legal notification requirements for a public hearing on the large turbines in Tuesday’s meeting.
The plan sent to the supervisors Tuesday covers what are known as “small” and “micro” wind systems.
The “micro” systems are rated at 10 kilowatts or less and are designed to be mounted on a roof.
“Small” systems are mounted on towers – either monopole or lattice – and may generate up to 50 kilowatts for residential use or 100 kilowatts for other uses. The state, however, limits residential systems that are tied into the existing power grid to 10 kilowatts.
The Roanoke County ordinance is targeted primarily at homeowners who wish to generate electricity to meet or supplement their individual needs.
A couple of the eight speakers Tuesday chastised the commissioners for not doing enough to protect the “viewshed” of the county by allowing towers that will be obtrusively tall.
Some others wanted more discretion in the setbacks from property lines, saying taller towers may be appropriate in some locations.
The commissioners did some last-minute alterations to the recommended ordinance.
The original proposal would have allowed various heights of towers – of 60, 80 or 100 feet – depending on the size of the lot. In an apparent attempt to give the county greater control over some viewshed concerns, the commissioners decided any tower more than 60 feet tall would require a special-use permit – requiring specific, individual approval by the board of supervisors.
They also made a concession to those who wanted to have individual properties’ topography taken into consideration when applying setback rules for small towers. That also will require a special-use permit.
The effect of those two changes, according to Assistant Director of Planning Philip Thompson, is that most applications for small-scale generators likely will require a special-use permit.
The meeting closed, as is the commission’s practice, with an open comment period. That was dominated by opponents of the Invenergy plan.
Speakers urged the commission to consider strict restrictions on noise, to consider flicker from light going through the turbine blades in siting turbines, or even not allowing the structures at all.
Final authority to change the zoning regulations lies with the board of supervisors.
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