RICHMOND – It would be harder to locate industrial wind farms in Wayne County if the county adopts changes to its zoning ordinance that are recommended by the Advisory Plan Commission.
The Wayne County Commissioners are scheduled to receive the plan commission’s favorable recommendation on the changes Wednesday morning. The non-governmental Richmond-Wayne County Chamber of Commerce also endorsed the proposal recently. If the commissioners agree, the revisions would be added to regulations covering the county’s agricultural areas.
The location of every individual turbine would require specific approval, said Steve Higinbotham, the county’s building commissioner and director of development. The changes would not allow large turbines as a permitted use.
EDP Renewables wants to build a wind farm including about 23 turbines in northern Wayne County. That proposal is what sparked the proposal to revise zoning standards. The company’s plan includes about 100 turbines altogether, with others located in Henry and Randolph counties.
The plan commission heard about two hours of testimony Monday about wind turbines from a crowd of over 200 people which filled the commissioners’ meeting room in the Wayne County Annex Building. The commission voted 6-0 to send the changes with a favorable recommendation to the commissioners.
Under the existing ordinance, wind turbines are permitted as special exceptions to the zoning law. The law recognizes two categories of industrial wind turbines, called wind energy conversion systems. Micro WECs, small turbines mounted on an existing structure, are not affected.
– Small WECS are defined as less than 100 feet tall and generating less than 50 kilowatts, with a blade sweep of less than 30 feet. They would be allowed as special exceptions to the zoning ordinance, requiring approval by the county zoning board.
– Large WECS – more than 100 feet tall, generating more than 50 kW, with a blade sweep of more than 30 feet – would not be a permitted use.
The towers proposed by EDP Renewables are 300 feet tall with blades extending to 495 feet.
Just before the plan commission’s vote, county attorney Ron Cross said, “What we are really doing is not saying it’s impossible to approve a wind farm. What we are saying is each proposal will have to come in and make a particularized case … This certainly creates the potential for a lot of local control.”
County officials were pleased with the conduct of the hearing, which was generally good natured. Most testimony was about possible effects that large wind turbines would have on residents and the surrounding countryside.
One presentation brought chuckles from the crowd and commission members. Bill Weaver of Falmouth, in Fayette County, showed a large photo of commission chairman Ken Paust’s home with outlines of wind towers superimposed. He said he wanted Paust to see what his house would look like with turbines towering over it.
Weaver wore a white jacket with “Peaceful Country Living ‘Gone With the Wind’” printed on the back.
Mary Owen, who said she lives north of Richmond, said she is “very concerned about the selling price of our property,” fearing that potential buyers would choose a view without wind turbines over a property in sight of turbine towers.
James Cash of the Dalton area said he has a wind turbine on his property and that it sheds ice in cold weather. He has heard large sheets of ice crashing to the ground near his home. He also talked of the difficulty of deconstructing wind towers, which are said to weigh about 500,000 pounds.
“You’re not going to get a couple of hillbillies out there with a cutting torch to drop it,” he said.
Jon Robinson of the Hagerstown area said people can find plenty of information against and in favor of wind towers.
“At the very least, there has to be enough questions for you guys (the plan commission) to have pause about whether you want to bring these into Wayne County,” he said, urging commission members to talk to people who would be affected by wind turbines.
Bill Sullivan of rural Hagerstown said the changes don’t go far enough, calling them “a band-aid treatment for a triage situation. … Until they (turbines) are completely banned, we must continue our battle against them.”
Other people spoke generally in favor of allowing wind turbine development.
Jim Howell, who farms near Hagerstown, said, “In the U.S. one has a certain right to the air above the property and the land below it. … To what extent should Wayne County have the right to restrict the air above my land?”
Mark Lumpkin, from south of Losantville, said he has been satisfied in his dealings with EDP Renewables, noting that taxes from the development help pay for local schools and county services. Speaking to comments that farmland values have declined after wind towers went up, he said that’s because commodity prices have declined.
Jeffrey Nemeth, EDP’s project manager, spoke, but the crowd was not allowed to ask him questions until after the meeting. Commission member Jonathan Ferris asked why the company chose Wayne County for a wind farm. Nemeth said the county has the advantages of strong winds and electric transmission lines sufficient to carry the power out of the area. EDP also has a number of companies wanting to buy wind-generated power.
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