Concerns about low-frequency noise, negative impact on the mountainous viewshed and other issues have led the Roanoke County Planning Commission to delay the implementation of rules for large- and utility-scale wind turbines in the county.
Although the commission and the county’s professional planners had spent more than a year and a half crafting the regulations discussed at a public hearing Tuesday night, enough questions were raised that the four commissioners in attendance decided to delay a vote on them.
The planning commission makes recommendations for zoning changes to the board of supervisors, which has final say on them.
After almost three hours of comments and discussion, the commissioners had more questions they wanted answered before moving the regulations along.
“A lot of good information was brought to us, some great suggestions, things I think need to be considered in this process,” said Commissioner Martha Hooker.
“Specific comments regarding definitions, about a sound study and even suggestions about how that should be done, suggestions regarding view- sheds and reminders of what valuable resources the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail are,” led her to want to reconsider the proposals.
“I also appreciate the other side, the need to be looking at other sources of energy, but I’m just not sure we are ready to move forward.”
Commissioner Rodney McNeil made the motion to reconsider the regulations at the board’s March 15 work session and move forward from there.
Vice Chairman David Radford, who led the meeting in the absence of Chairman Gary Jarrell, said that “regardless of the time it has taken us to get where we are today, it is still a learning process.”
Although the board had considered many of the concerns raised Tuesday, Radford and the other board members agreed they needed to take another look at some of them.
The regulations, for instance, would have required “mitigation” of the effects of flicker – the shadow effect of sunlight and moonlight through the turbine blades – but it didn’t say how.
While calling for a limit of 60 decibels on the noise at the power company’s property line, it did not address the issue of low-frequency noise – which reportedly can be felt and sensed at tremendous distances.
Questions about other negative health effects, diminished property values and a lack of any height restrictions also were raised.
The hearing drew an overflow crowd, jamming the board of supervisors meeting room in the county administration center and spilling upstairs.
Although a majority of the speakers made at least some reference to a prospective wind farm on Poor Mountain, no specific project was on the table for Tuesday’s hearing.
Chicago-based Invenergy has announced its intention to place 15 to 18 440-foot-tall wind turbines on Poor Mountain, not far from existing broadcast towers there.
The company has not, however, filed any official request to proceed with such a project with the county. In fact, it has yet to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for the project, an essential first step in its development plan.
The latest regulations, as proposed, would require that every “large” and “utility” project receive specific approval from the supervisors through a special-use permit.
A “large” system would consist of one or more towers producing less than 1 megawatt of electricity each. A “utility” system would have more than one tower, each capable of 1 megawatt or more.
Towers would have to be monopoles, could only be placed in two agricultural and two industrial districts, and, under the initial proposals, would have to meet height requirements set by the supervisors.
Tuesday’s delay means the regulations likely will not be considered in another public hearing before the planning commission’s April meeting.
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