New guidelines regulate such things as noise and shadows, but one supervisor said they’re not strict enough.
Four of the five Roanoke County supervisors put in place a wind-energy policy Tuesday night that they say will protect residents and guide the county with future development.
The fifth board member, Ed Elswick, said the board hadn’t limited wind development enough.
Elswick – who represents the Windsor Hills District, including a site that a wind company has eyed – stormed out of the meeting midway through discussion. He had requested multiple times to make the policy guidelines stricter for wind developers and was shot down repeatedly by fellow board members.
The approved ordinance includes regulations for large wind turbine noise levels, shadows, upkeep and distance from others. Before Tuesday, the county had no utility guidelines that addressed wind energy.
The group of four – Charlotte Moore of the Cave Spring District, Mike Altizer of the Vinton District, Richard Flora of the Hollins District and Chairman Butch Church of the Catawba District – responded in favor to local wind farm advocates’ greatest concern: how far the structures that can be hundreds of feet tall must stay from neighbors’ homes and properties.
Elswick tried and failed to lead the board to dodge setting any limits. The county should wait until it has a proposal and hire experts to weigh in “rather than grabbing numbers out of the air,” he said.
Large windmills now must stand at least 450 feet or 110 percent of a turbine’s height from the nearest property lines.
Also, the turbines must be at least 1,000 feet from homes, or a little more than three football fields. An earlier policy draft cited a distance of a half-mile, or 2,640 feet.
Elswick attempted another limitation. He asked the board to cap a turbine’s allowed noise level to what’s typical for sound in rural areas, fewer than 30 decibels heard at the nearest property line. Church also couldn’t persuade the board to pass a similar low-decibel limit.
So, the board stuck to the proposed 60-decibel maximum. Supervisors said that amount equals about the sound level along a road like U.S. 460.
That’s when Elswick grabbed his briefcase, said “Mr. Elswick” is no longer of use, and exited.
Minutes later, he stood beside his vehicle in the county’s administration center parking lot.
“The wind company will love” what the board decided, he said, lit cigarette in hand.
A wind policy came to the supervisors’ attention this year since a Chicago-based company, Invenergy, has leased land on Poor Mountain. Invenergy has said it hopes to place 15 to 18 commercial turbines there that could power about 9,000 homes.
Elswick said Tuesday’s vote wasn’t only about the Poor Mountain plan and his district.
“It’s the whole county, but we all know there aren’t a lot of places,” he said. “Put them on the Appalachian Trail. Put them all along the [Blue Ridge] parkway.”
Though Invenergy has announced its wishes, the company or any developer still must clear a special-use permit process with the county before it could build.
A special-use permit would tailor Tuesday’s guidelines.
“I know in my heart that we will approve it individually when it comes to that,” Church said.
Invenergy faces state and federal regulatory hurdles before it may build. It has not yet applied for the county permit.
Some people who oppose the Poor Mountain wind farm had asked the supervisors earlier Tuesday to delay the vote.
In attendance that night were fewer than half the 63 people who spoke at a board hearing three weeks ago. Speakers advocated then both for and against the renewable energy source on county land.
Before the votes began, Altizer addressed the crowd: “There’s an inference that what we’re doing tonight puts wind mills on Bent Mountain,” which neighbors Poor Mountain. “And that is not the truth.”
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