May 18, 2011

Panel tweaks wind turbine rules

By Cody Lowe, The Roanoke Times, 18 May 2011

Large and utility-scale wind turbines will have to be at least a half-mile from the nearest occupied homes under proposed revisions to the Roanoke County zoning ordinance advanced Tuesday.

The county planning commission tweaked a set of changes to the zoning code that it has been working on for more than a year and a half.

After an emotional public hearing in March at which opponents and supporters of such large wind generation units spoke, the board decided to reconsider the changes it was considering then.

It later backtracked on restrictions on tower heights, noise regulations and setback requirements after making a visit to a West Virginia wind turbine farm.

After Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners seemed satisfied that they have the best set of regulations they can come up with and unanimously voted to recommend them to the board of supervisors, which has the final say.

The changes in the planning commission’s latest regulations apply to the distance from an occupied dwelling – at least 2,640 feet – and a setback of at least 110 percent of the height of the turbine from the nearest property line. Noise generated by the turbines can be no more than 60 decibels at the property line, as well.

Although no application for a utility-scale wind farm has been made to the county, Chicago-based Invenergy has announced its intention to place up to 18 440-foot turbines on a 2,000-acre tract it leases on Poor Mountain.

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved locations for most of those proposed towers but rejected placement of a half-dozen that would have to be moved or shortened to comply with its regulations.

The county’s ordinance would require any wind energy developer to obtain a special-use permit from the board of supervisors for every specific project.

Under the new regulations, that gives the board substantial leeway on requirements for mitigating the potential impact of such concerns as flicker or shadow effects of light through the turbine blades and the impact on surrounding scenery.

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