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Roanoke County officials listen to Poor Mountain windmill debate  

Credit:  By Katelyn Polantz, The Roanoke Times, www.roanoke.com 24 August 2011 ~~

Supervisors in Roanoke County chose on Tuesday not to end the debate over wind energy zoning that has flared this year because of a company that envisions a wind farm on Poor Mountain.

Supervisors Chairman Butch Church told more than 100 people awaiting the board’s decision that the officials will vote Sept. 13.

He said the board would like more time to think about the proposal on the table that outlines how industrial and commercial groups may work with the government to erect large wind turbines on county soil in the future.

“I wish you could see the notes and stacks of paper on this dais,” Church told the crowd after hearing 63 speakers over almost four hours. “We didn’t just listen to you and chew gum.”

He and his four colleagues gave no indication how they might vote.

Currently, the county doesn’t have standards that guide how a group may apply for a windmill farm or even one large windmill. The county’s present guidelines don’t force applicants to address concerns about turbine noise, shadows and other windmill-specific characteristics, County Attorney Paul Mahoney said.

Chicago-based Invenergy has held informal meetings and leased land in the county with the wish to place 15 to 18 turbines on about 60 acres of a Poor Mountain ridge, the company has said. The group has not yet asked Roanoke County to approve the project.

Invenergy’s actions prompted many of Tuesday’s speakers, who ranged from teenagers with props to experts in green energy.

Those who favored the ordinance included pilots, biologists and engineers who said turbines in Roanoke County would do little harm.

Other speakers, including many who live on Bent Mountain or close to Poor Mountain, disagreed.

A wind farm would hurt their property values and spoil the picturesque views from their homes, they said.

Three teens showed how a 450-foot turbine would tower over houses by placing a wooden windmill as tall as them next to a tissue-box homestead.

Some Poor Mountain neighbors worried about the noise of the whirling blades. If passed, the proposal would allow no more than 60 decibels at the nearest property line.

“You sit down there with your family. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I am there,” said Peter Airey of Hollins. “Just how long do I stay in your house until you tell me to ‘expletive deleted’ get out?”

Others spoke on behalf of bats and birds that could be killed or disturbed.

“A risk is still a risk, even if it’s not overwhelming,” said Jerusalem Walker, from near Copper Hill.

Speakers warned of private companies that may not care about the region but want to profit from it.

On the other hand, a wind energy ordinance could draw to the region businesses that favor renewable energy, commenters said.

Members of the Sierra Club, Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition and professors from Virginia Tech, James Madison and Hollins universities spoke in favor.

Sean McGinnis, director of Virginia Tech’s green energy program, said he estimates the possible Poor Mountain turbines would produce more than 100 million kilowatt-hours annually, enough to supply about 9,000 homes in the county.

Caleb Amstutz, a Roanoke Catholic School freshman, showed the board two inhalers he uses to treat his asthma as he pleaded for cleaner, coal-free air.

“You don’t have to dig in the ground or blow up a mountain to get it [wind],” he said.

Some supporters took issue with one facet of the ordinance: a requirement that windmills stay about a half-mile from residences. That distance is excessive, they said.

The guidelines that the supervisors may set next month would flatten one regulatory hurdle for Invenergy and other groups that plan for large wind turbines.

The Federal Aviation Administration must confirm the Poor Mountain turbines wouldn’t interrupt flight paths for Roanoke Regional Airport. The company would also need to meet state and federal regulations, including those required by the Department of Environmental Quality.

If Invenergy clears regulations before other counties that have projects in early stages, it could be Virginia’s first commercial wind farm.

Source:  By Katelyn Polantz, The Roanoke Times, www.roanoke.com 24 August 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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