The Wayne County Commissioners on Wednesday approved a change to local ordinances that will effectively ban the establishment of a wind farm in the county.
The commissioners voted unanimously, 3-0, to pass a multi-level change to county laws on wind energy, thereby creating a requirement that those who wish to install industrial turbines on their property must seek a zoning variance to do so. This means future efforts to bring industrial turbines to the area would be determined on a case-by-case – more specifically, on a property-by-property – basis.
The vote followed a Monday recommendation by the county’s advisory plan commission to enact the proposed ordinance change. The group met for a public hearing that night during which nearly two dozen individuals spoke about industrial wind power. Many of them did not want the turbines in Wayne County.
The ordinance change is among the first major modifications to rules on wind energy conversion systems in the county since such laws were adopted by county government in 1993.
“Everything has its place, including wind turbines,” said Richmond business owner Roger Richert, who has of late been an outspoken opponent of the turbines. “But Wayne County isn’t the right place for these, and I think the people who (spoke Monday) made that point very clear.”
Richert, who was celebrating with a small group outside commissioners chambers following the panel’s ruling, said he thinks the difficulty wind energy companies will have coming into the county will all but end the debate. He also said he’s confident it will help the county grow, because “people won’t have to look at those things if they decide they want to move here.”
EDP Renewables conducted its first meeting on the idea of bringing wind turbines to the area in early October; it then reached out to more than 100 property owners in northwestern Wayne County in hopes of establishing a 100-turbine wind farm, much like it has already done in Randolph County. The turbines EDP would install would be between 492 feet and 600 feet in height and would have sat back from properties at least 1,000 feet, according to company officials.
“We did our research, and it’s a big issue for a lot of us who live or do business in the county … many people don’t want them here,” Richert said. “I certainly think the commissioners got it right with their ruling today.”
Steve Higinbotham, head of the planning and zoning commission, who spoke to several people following the meeting, said those wishing to have the turbines on their property would have to prove “hardship” to win approval from the board of zoning appeals. The board looks at all parts of the issue, which it refers to as findings of facts, to determine if a variance should be permitted.
“That’s going to be tough, because it’s difficult to prove a hardship for something that’s optional,” he told the group. “And if just one (fact) gets shot down, the whole thing gets shot down.”
He said if a wind farm were to be permitted, the board of zoning appeals would establish the parameters for its existence, including the setbacks and other rules on how it could affect nearby property owners.
It is unclear whether the ordinance changes will be permanent, Higinbotham told the group, noting that guidance for future ordinance changes could potentially be included in the county’s 2017 comprehensive plan.
Including language on wind energy in the comprehensive plan would not mean the county would necessarily include explicit permission for wind turbines; rather, the plan could suggest how the county’s governing bodies should handle requests for wind turbines and other renewable energy sources moving forward.
“Wayne County has never been one to tell people what they (can or can’t do) with their property,” he said. “But this was one of those things that until we have all the information we need on how it impacts the public, this is how it’s going to be.”
A representative of EDP could not be reached for comment Wednesday.