NEWPORT – A new ordinance is now on the books to provide protective measures for people in this community who live in areas where wind turbines might be built.
The town council unanimously adopted at its regular meeting Thursday a tall structure ordinance that creates requirements, such as setbacks and permits that have to be obtained, for developing wind energy facilities in Newport. Councilman David Heath moved to approve the ordinance, seconded by Councilman Chuck Shinn.
The action came after a public hearing attended by about 30 people, several of whom raised concerns about wind-energy facilities’ impacts to neighboring property values, noise levels and potential impacts to military operations.
Mr. Health said the ordinance should be thorough and mitigate any impacts to the area surrounding any wind-energy facility built in Newport’s jurisdiction. He encouraged people to bring their concerns and information to the council, since the ordinance can be amended later.
The council currently has a moratorium in place on permitting tall structures. It took that step because the town did not have a law in place, but had learned Torch Renewable Energy LLC, a Houston-based company, is pursuing a N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources siting permit for a hybrid wind- and solar-energy facility near Newport’s limits in the town’s extraterritorial zoning district, an area outside the city limits that falls under Newport’s planning and building rules. The company proposes building a 40-turbine facility just east of the Newport corporate limits on 7,150 acres leased from Weyerhaeuser Co. and a private owner, as well as a 50- to 75-acre solar panel farm between Little Deep Creek and Little Deep Creek Road.
The council decided Thursday to let the moratorium expire, which will occur just before Thanksgiving.
With the ordinance in place, and the moratorium lifted, Torch Renewable Energy can continue to advance its project.
To minimize impact to the surrounding property, property owners, local community, environment and military operations in the local area, the council, during its Oct. 21 meeting, adopted an ordinance as recommended by the town planning board.
The ordinance has a minimum setback for all wind turbines of 1,300 feet from the property lines, plus an additional setback of 2½ feet for every foot of height on the turbines. There’s also a shutdown requirement if the turbines produce noise over 45 decibels at the property line for more than 48 consecutive hours.
Wind-energy turbines will only be allowed on property zoned R-20 (residential agricultural, low density). They will require a conditional-use permit, which means applications will go before both the planning board and the town council for approval.
Applicants will have to provide a report showing no shadow flicker or blade glint falls on any non-participating property or roadway. The only exceptions will be if the flicker or glint falling on outside property is less than 120 seconds per day for seven consecutive days (20 hours maximum per year) and if the flicker or glint falls more than 100 feet from an existing residence or business property.
Flicker or glint will only be allowed on roadways if the traffic volume is less than 500 vehicles per day and the flicker or glint doesn’t fall on an intersection of public roads. If either the flicker-glint requirements or noise requirements aren’t met or exceeded for more than 48 hours, the turbines will have to shut down until the issue is solved.
Before an applicant may apply for town permits, the ordinance requires them to get a DENR siting permit. This permit was created May 17 when the General Assembly passed H.B. 484.
During the hearing, Rocky Ray, Torch Renewable Energy vice president of development spoke, said his company has been pursuing the site for its Newport project for the last three years.
“We reviewed nine sites across four counties,” he said. “The military has been our No. 1 concern on this. In the coming two years, we expect to have many public hearings to keep you appraised.”
Several audience members, who didn’t identify themselves, questioned Mr. Ray about various aspects of his company’s project, which Mr. Ray tried to address.
Mr. Ray said his company intends to sell power from the facility to Duke Energy Progress. Company officials are currently talking with personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point about any changes necessary to ensure the facility doesn’t interfere with the base’s operations. Mr. Ray said he expects a response from the military in the next 30-60 days.
Mark Eadie, councilman-elect, said he’s looked at the proposed placements of the Torch Renewable Energy project’s turbines.
“You’ve already taken great care with the placing,” he said to Mr. Ray. “You’re likely not expecting to have an impact to the base.”
The project has been federally subsidized for the proposed facility. Mr. Ray said the company must complete construction by the end of 2015 in order to receive tax credits.
Several Newport residents had both questions and concerns about wind-energy facilities coming in – both Torch Renewable Energy’s proposed facility and any other that may be proposed.
Bill Price said he was primarily worried about Torch Renewable’s project being in the approach for aircraft to MCAS Cherry Point.
“I’d ask you (the council) to consider that when making your ordinance,” he said.
John Yurko said he and a group of residents in the Wildwood district are concerned about the Torch Energy project because their property borders on the project.
“We feel that having towers basically in our backyard will adversely affect our property value,” he said.
When he asked who will monitor the noise level of wind energy projects in Newport, town planner Bob Chambers said the staff doesn’t have a good answer yet, but the 45 decibel limit seems to be what’s used in other locations in the United States. He also said property appraisers will be used to determine any impacts to property value.
Bonny Bercegeay said she wants the council to require data-gathering equipment as part of a project’s environmental assessment.
“I feel we should include more specific language so someone independent has to do them (the assessments),” she said. “I’m particularly concerned with R-20 being used. I live off Highway 70, near property being farmed by Mickey Simmons. Say someone wanted to put a large system in there – that concerns me.”
Larry Land asked what sort of remedy would be offered for any property value lost. Mr. Chambers said a property owner must have an appraisal done within 10 years of a facility getting an operating permit. If the appraisal showed a loss of property value, whoever built the wind turbines would have to reimburse them.
After adopting the ordinance, the council unanimously scheduled a public hearing for possible amendments to the ordinance at the Dec. 12 regular council meeting. Mr. Heath moved to schedule the hearing, seconded by Mr. Shinn.
Mr. Heath requested the council schedule the hearing in the event further comments from the community lead to any amendment proposals. He said if nothing was proposed by the time of the hearing, it could be taken off the meeting agenda.