MACHIPONGO – The Northampton County Board of Supervisors held public hearings and had discussion on two zoning text amendments concerning wind energy and had discussion on another separate option not addressed in the amendments it discussed as a more probable scenario for the county – wind test facilities.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of Zoning Text Amendment 2011-08 to add a new section known as Wind Energy Overlay District by a vote of 5-3.
But Sandra Benson, director of planning and zoning, said it would require an additional public hearing for both the commission and the supervisors on the amendment to add the overlay district before action could be taken by the board.
The board tabled the amendment by a vote of 5-0 with Supervisor Willie Randall absent.
The Planning Commission tabled by a vote of 7-1 Zoning Text Amendment 2011-09 to add a new section to be known as Standards for Wind Turbines, Large and Utility-Scale, so with no recommendation it required no action by the supervisors.
During discussions, Supervisor Richard Tankard questioned moving forward with the regulations for large utility scale turbines at this time, saying that the interest in the county had not been to install wind farms on the mainland but “there are people knocking on the door to install test facilities.”
Tankard said that two international companies have expressed interest in Northampton County for wind test facilities.
Supervisor Spencer Murray said the prospects for wind test facilities are much greater, that they could be significant revenue for the county, and wind test facilities are different from land based wind farms and appropriate to consider separately.
He said because wind test facilities are not generating power for distribution they could be cut off during the peak migratory bird season.
Comments during the public hearing for the zoning text amendments 2011-08, 09 concerning the large and utility-scale turbines included Steve Parker, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve, who offered comments to the supervisors from a letter from the organization to Benson and the Planning Commission supporting the zoning text amendments, including that they would protect the important concentration of migratory birds that pass through the area.
He also noted the economic impact of this migration to the area, and that tourism is one of the Eastern Shore’s largest industries.
“Test facilities if located in Northampton County would be for testing offshore prototypes not wind turbines on the mainland,” said Tankard when contacted Wednesday.
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