Small wind-generation units will be allowed in Roanoke County under regulations approved Tuesday by the board of supervisors.
A public hearing on the rules focused on so-called small- and micro-generators – free-standing or atop homes or businesses – and avoided the controversy that has been generated by a proposal for a utility-scale wind turbine farm on Poor Mountain.
Some 17 speakers addressed the issue, a majority arguing that the proposal’s limits on height and noise, in particular, were more restrictive than necessary and might discourage such systems.
In the end, they persuaded four of the five supervisors to allow towers up to 100 feet in height – as opposed to the 60-foot limit recommended by the planning commission – and to allow guy-wired towers, which the planners had recommended banning.
Both of those revisions were recommended by Cave Spring District Supervisor Charlotte Moore.
Proponents argued that the 60-foot limit is too low for most locations to effectively get above a surrounding tree canopy into useful wind. The restriction would deter many from even attempting to use the new technology, they said.
Also, the guy-wired towers are considerably cheaper than monopole or lattice towers, and allowing them will help stimulate experimentation with wind power, proponents argued.
The supervisors also left intact what was probably the most controversial point among the few speakers in opposition to the zoning regulations – allowing noise levels up to 60 decibels at the owner’s property line.
Windsor Hills District Supervisor Ed Elswick, who represents the area of the county where the large wind farm has been proposed, was the lone vote against the regulations for smaller wind-energy generators.
He stated his general support of such small-scale systems but argued repeatedly that their potential for sleep-interrupting noise had not been studied well enough. He and at least one other speaker argued that 60 decibels was too high a standard for the middle of the night in a quiet rural setting.
Deputy Director of Planning Philip Thompson presented materials, as requested by the board at the first reading of the ordinance two weeks ago, showing comparisons of various noise levels.
Two different charts showed “normal conversation” as being 60 decibels. But one also showed such common tools and appliances as dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and hair dryers in that range as well.
Elswick and Hollins District Supervisor Richard Flora both suggested it would be good to actually visit a small- or micro-wind generation site to hear the noise levels for themselves, but, in the end, Flora voted with the majority to accept the regulations as amended by Moore.
Despite a personal plea from Gary Johnson, chief of the resource planning and professional services division of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the board declined to add a provision requiring consultation with parkway officials for towers in the parkway viewshed.
Johnson had asked that any proposed wind turbine site within one mile of the parkway be required to be reviewed by parkway officials and that “reasonable consideration” be taken of any concerns raised.
The supervisors also revised one other recommendation sent up by the planning commission, voting to require a special-use permit for any small wind generation setup in the Explore Park zoning district.
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