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Perquimans delays vote on wind rules

HERTFORD – Perquimans County commissioners have postponed making a decision on proposed new regulations for new wind turbine projects until next month.

The board voted 5-1 Monday to delay action on recommendations by the Perquimans Planning Board that include increasing the setback requirement between wind turbine towers and the nearest house.

Board Chairwoman Janice Cole cast the lone vote against the delay, arguing commissioners have already had enough time to review the recommendations and make a decision.

The delay comes as Apex Clean Energy continues to eye a site straddling the Perquimans-Chowan border for a wind farm project costing an estimated $300 million to $500 million. Most of the project would be built in Perquimans County in woodlands owned by Weyerhaeuser, a wood products company based in Washington state.

Commissioners approved a 120-day moratorium on new wind projects in October. The delay was designed to give the county Planning Board adequate time to review the county’s existing rules and decide if changes were needed.

The planning board conducted its review and in December, recommended the county increase the setback between turbine towers and the nearest home to a half-mile, or 2,630 feet. The current setback is based on the height of the turbine blades in the proposed project, and works out to about 1,500 feet based on the size of the wind towers Apex plans to build.

The planning board also suggested the county consider changes to the turbine decommissioning policy and create a pot of money – funded by Apex – that would pay for any special studies needed to review the project.

Nineteen people spoke at a public hearing on the planning board’s recommendations Monday, 11 of whom either support a one-mile setback from all homes, roads and property lines or said they oppose any new wind energy projects in the county.

Developers of the Apex Clean Energy project have said a one-mile setback requirement would kill the project in Perquimans and Chowan.

Opponents of the Apex project say it will destroy the natural beauty that either brought them to Perquimans or kept them in the county in the first place. Others have questioned how the wind turbine towers will affect birds and bats.

Craig Craft, who owns a crop-dusting company in Perquimans, said at Monday’s hearing he’s convinced the risk of flying into a turbine tower will make it harder to recruit pilots to spray crops in the county.

There is also the issue of “flicker” effect – the strobe-light phenomenon caused when sunlight passes through the turbine blades at a certain angle.

Opponents have also asked what would happen if a wind turbine blade falls off and what happens to the ice that may accumulate on a turbine blade.

Supporters of the Apex project say it would bring millions of dollars in tax revenues to the county, and provide even more money to the property owners who lease their land for the project. Perquimans officials have estimated the county stands to receive up to $250,000 a year in tax revenue if 50 of the Apex project’s turbines are located in Perquimans. That would make Apex the single largest taxpayer in the county.

Rita Saunders, whose family has owned property on Popular Neck Road in Tyner since 1946, spoke in favor of the Apex project at Monday’s meeting. She said if the county adopts a larger setback for wind turbines, her family’s property could no longer participate in the project.

Critics of the larger setback say its main beneficiary would be Weyerhaeuser, who owns the largest chunk of the property where the Apex project would be built. They say property owners with smaller land holdings in the project area would benefit less from the larger setback.

Of the eight people who spoke in favor of wind energy projects in Perquimans on Monday, four said they either were employed by Apex or Weyerhaeuser.

“Changing the ordinance now, after it has been approved and is in use for a project (Iberdrola) currently under construction impacts our rights as a property owner,” said Alissa Cale, a real estate manager for Weyerhaeuser. Weyerhaeuser owns about 15 percent of the land being used in Iberdrola’s project – Amazon Wind Farm East – a similar wind energy project that will be built on the Perquimans and Pasquotank county border.

Patsy Miller, who works for Apex in Hertford, also said to change the county’s ordinance now would “not be fair” to her employer.

Following the public hearing, Cole asked commissioners what they wanted to do. She pointed out that board has been listening to the public since August and the planning board did forward a recommendation.

“I don’t know if I would say I heard anything at the public hearing (tonight) that I haven’t heard before,” Cole said.

Commissioner Matt Peeler said he disagreed. He moved that the board create a subcommittee of commissioners and planning board members to explore the issue further. His motion died for lack of a second, however.

Don Giecek, senior development manager for Apex, said Tuesday he believes commissioners will make the right decision.

“I have confidence the full county board will consider properly this important issue,” he said.