The debate over large-scale wind energy systems in Roanoke County seems destined for more prolonged debate as the board of supervisors begins considering specific regulations.
In an hour-and-a-half work session Tuesday, the four board members present heard a brief report on the unanimous recommendations of the county planning commission, but ended up rehashing many of the most contentious elements raised over the past two years of studying energy generation from wind.
As has been true in the ongoing public debate, disagreements over noise limits, setbacks from adjoining property and occupied dwellings, and siting dominated the discussion.
Windsor Hills District Supervisor Ed Elswick, who represents the only community in the county where a company has expressed a specific interest in a utility-scale wind farm, and Catawba District Supervisor Butch Church seemed most disturbed by the latest plan for regulations.
Elswick, who lives on Bent Mountain near a spot where turbines have been proposed, pressed for additional research, as he has for months. He argued that neither staff nor the planning commission nor the board of supervisors has done nearly enough study of the effects of such turbines.
“I want to have as much information as possible at my disposal, and this will still be a totally inexact science,” Church said. “Everything is in the eyes of the beholder, big time. It’s a no-win situation.”
For months, proponents and critics of wind generation projects – large and small – have bombarded planning commissioners, supervisors and The Roanoke Times’ opinion pages with comments.
The supervisors in February – with Elswick dissenting – approved rules for small-scale wind turbines that essentially liberalized some restrictions the planning commission had recommended.
The public hearing for those rules drew just 17 speakers, most endorsing taller and louder units than the planning commissioners recommended. The supervisors agreed with the advocates.
Rules for the large-scale turbines – which can be well more than 400 feet in height, visible for miles and are likely slated for ridgelines – have drawn much more dissent.
In March, the planning commission’s public hearing on large-scale wind farm regulations drew more than 60 speakers, many of whom opposed the turbines. The response prodded the commission to reconsider some aspects of those rules before passing them to the supervisors.
Although no company has formally applied to place such turbines in the county, Chicago-based Invenergy has announced plans for 18 on Poor Mountain and received Federal Aviation Administration approval for all but four of those.
The company, still awaiting word on its request for the FAA to reconsider the final turbines, has indicated in the past that it would wait for the county to revise its zoning ordinance to address wind energy.
But County Attorney Paul Mahoney, while saying he was not encouraging the supervisors to act hastily, warned the board Tuesday that the zoning ordinance has few tools to regulate such turbines.
The planning commission proposal, while it may not be perfect, he said, did set at least 17 standards compared with only a half-dozen in the current ordinance.
In the end, the board members decided they would conduct another work session at a meeting next month. No schedule for formal readings or a public hearing was set.
Earlier in the day, the board – with all members present – approved the first reading of an ordinance to buy two tracts of commercial property directly across from the Vinton Municipal Building for construction of a library.
The plan is to spend $1.22 million for a block that now houses a wholesale floral business and hold it for seven to 10 years until funding for a library can be found. The business would lease the site in the short term.
Vinton would contribute half of the purchase price of the property, which, when a library is built, is expected to help draw businesses downtown.
The plan faces a second vote for final approval. Despite the initial endorsement, a majority of the Roanoke County board objected to the timetable, which calls for the county to pay the town back its share if a library isn’t completed within a decade.
Negotiations are expected to continue and board members expressed confidence that an agreement could be reached.
A formal announcement about the plan is expected this morning in Vinton.
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