The planning commission is right to go slow on turbine regulations for Roanoke County.
The prospect of windmills standing 440 feet above Poor Mountain, visible from distant mountain outlooks and the Roanoke Valley below, should make one thing clear to advocates and foes alike: A wind farm would have a big impact.
If Roanoke County is going to allow giant turbines, it must get the rules right.
Though regulations for large- and utility-scale wind turbines have been in the works for a year and a half, the planning commission delayed acting on them last week after hearing from turbine opponents during the first public hearing on the issue.
Delay was the proper course, even though the board already had considered many of the fears.
For one thing, the public feedback crystallized the vagueness of some of the language in the draft rules meant to address concerns of wind farm critics. The draft calls for “mitigation” of flicker effects, for instance, without saying what that would entail.
The hearing also elevated a key concern: the impact of ridgetop wind turbines on two of the valley’s proudest assets, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.
Thus far, a wind-energy development company’s stated interest in building windmills atop Poor Mountain has driven a lively public debate about the pros and cons of mountaintop turbines, with residents of neighboring Bent Mountain the most vociferous of foes.
But the county is not writing turbine regulations specifically for Invenergy, which has yet even to make a formal proposal. The county undertook the task before Invenergy came calling. The regulations should be adequate to protect the public interest on that project, should it come to fruition, and any other that might come along.
Pausing to hear what the National Park Service has to say about siting when considering applications seems prudent.
The planning commission cannot defer to the critics indefinitely. Some complaints about the purported health effects of giant windmills are hard, if not impossible, to support scientifically. Regulators will never be able to assuage every fear short of a ban.
Prohibition is not the commission’s role. Its charge is to give the board of supervisors a recommendation for wind turbine regulations.
Listening seriously to the public is part of the due diligence it is bringing to the task.
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