EDENTON – The Chowan County Planning Board recommended by a split vote Wednesday that county commissioners approve a conditional use permit for the Timbermill wind project.
A motion by Planning Board member Linda Peterson to recommend approval of the use permit with staff-recommended conditions passed 3-2 with board members Jim Leggett and Jim Robison voting against it.
Peterson, Chairman Warren Hare and board member Bobby Winborne voted in favor of the motion.
In addition to backing the conditions proposed by Chowan Planning Director Elizabeth Bryant, the board also recommended that Chowan commissioners establish procedures to regularly assess and adjust the cash bond for decommissioning wind turbines and towers to ensure it’s adequate to cover all decommissioning costs. Decommissioning refers to the complete removal of the turbines and towers once they are no longer generating electricity.
The Planning Board’s recommendation now goes to the Chowan County Board of Commissioners, which will consider Apex’s request for the conditional use permit during a quasi-judicial hearing. The hearing is expected to be held in late August.
The proposed Timbermill Wind Project by Charlottesville, Va.-based Apex Clean Energy Inc. is designed as a 300-megawatt wind energy facility and will include about 105 turbines on a 16,000-acre section of Chowan and Perquimans counties.
Robison, an outspoken critic of wind and solar power, made a motion at Wednesday’s meeting to recommend that the county commissioners delay the quasi-judicial hearing on the permit application until Apex had obtained all of its other required permits. The motion failed for lack of a second.
During Thursday’s meeting Robison repeatedly asked why Apex had sought the local conditional use permit before obtaining the necessary state and federal permits.
“Why are they coming here to us?” Robison asked, initially directing the question to county staff.
Later he asked Apex officials directly: “Why are you coming to us first?”
Don Giecek of Apex didn’t directly answer Robison’s question. He said the Chowan ordinance does not require the company to have the other permits in hand before applying for a conditional use permit.
When Robison objected that the county is the level of government least qualified to judge the technical aspects of the application, Giecek replied that the county is most qualified to determine compliance with the county’s ordinance.
Leggett, too, questioned whether the county had put “the cart before the horse” by considering the conditional use permit application before Apex had secured the necessary state and federal permits.
Leggett also said he couldn’t support the conditional use permit for the Timbermill wind project because he doesn’t believe the county’s current wind energy ordinance is adequate to protect public health and safety or the value of adjoining properties.
Robison also argued the Timbermill project would be inconsistent with the purposes of the A-1 (agricultural) district as described by Chowan’s zoning ordinance. He also cited the county land use plan’s stated goal for the residential agricultural land use classification: discouragement of converting agricultural land to urban use.
“These are not farms, by the way,” Robison said, referring to the utility-scale wind turbines that will make up the Timbermill project.
But Bryant said it’s her interpretation that a wind energy facility is not an urban use. She noted wind energy facilities are allowed as a conditional use throughout the A-1 district in the county.
Kevin Chandler, a spokesman for Apex, couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment on the Chowan Planning Board’s decision.
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