Chowan County Commissioners spent several hours Monday evening hashing out the details of a draft ordinance amendment on wind energy facilities.
Before the board debated the regulations, several members of the public spoke about the facilities.
During the regular public comment portion of the regular meeting at the Public Safety Center in Edenton, County Clerk Susanne Stallings read a letter from Natasha Montague, public affairs manager with Apex Clean Energy. The company currently is in the process of obtaining permits to build the Timbermill Wind Facility in the county.
Montague warned the commissioners that changes to the wind facility ordinances could result in the reduction of the viability of wind energy facilities. Due to the volatile economy, “now is not the time for Chowan County to turn away revenue,” she noted.
Alex Kehayes, candidate for Commission’s District 2 and a resident of Locust Grove Road, disagreed with Montague’s letter. He pointed out that the World Health Organization found that frequent exposure to infrasound (low-frequency sounds) and other noises from wind turbines have a negative effect effect on people’s health.
One study noted that people who live or work in close proximity to industrial wind turbines experienced symptoms that include “decreased quality of life, annoyance, stress, sleep disturbance, headache, anxiety, depression and cognitive dysfunction. Some have also felt anger, grief or a sense of injustice. Suggested causes of symptoms include a combination of wind turbine noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, ground current and shadow flicker.”
As a result of these findings, several European countries increased the setback requirements for turbines from neighboring properties.
Patrick Flynn, who lives in Paradise Road, noted that his main concern was with the money for the wind facility projects.
If a company builds a wind energy facility, the firm will offset that cost by increasing its electrical rates, Flynn noted. In effect, the customers will foot the bill for the project.
“The money they spend will be the amount of money customers will pay to offset the company’s expense,” Flynn noted.
Commissioners also heard from Gigi Badawi, a Perquimans County resident, who lives near the western side of the Amazon Wind Facility.
Before she spoke, Commissioner Don Faircloth attempted to have her talk stricken from the agenda. He noted that only one side of the wind energy facility debate would be presented at the meeting, making it unfair to facility proponents.
Commissioner Ron Cummings noted that the board has heard from those in favor of wind energy facilities throughout the years. Faircloth’s motion failed, 2-4.
Badawi, who was invited to speak by Board Chair Patti Kersey, noted that the closest wind turbine is 3,437 feet from her home. She can see three of them from her back porch. The turbines sound like a jet that never moves.
“Yesterday morning, I was outside having coffee, and the noise was so loud that I shut myself in my garage,” she said.
Badawi noted that right around when the turbines were built, she was a graduate student who took some of her classes through the internet. She used her cellphone for conference calls.
Now that the wind turbines are in place, her cellphone signal spotty, almost nonexistent, on her property. Her cellphone carrier noted that her area is now a deadzone – the metal in the turbines block the signal.
“That’s a serious issue for me. I live in the middle of nowhere,” Badawi said. “If I have an emergency, I would be screwed. I would have no way to reach people, because I can’t use my cellphone.”
When asked by Commissioner Larry McLaughlin about any health affects, she noted that in 2017, she starting having headaches and nausea, among other illnesses. Despite visiting numerous doctors, they haven’t been able to find anything wrong with her.
Commissioner Bob Kirby asked whether she has brought the problems to the Perquimans County Commissioners. Badawi said that in the early stages of the project, she complained at the county and eventually the state level. She noted that she went to the state to discuss how the project’s approval process was improperly conducted. But once the facility was approved, she stopped fighting, because it had already been such an enormous fight.
She and other residents have stopped talking about it and just try to live with the situation. “How can I get it fixed when I have to talk to the people who allowed it?”
Badawi said that if she had known a wind energy facility was going to be built near her property, she wouldn’t have bought it.
She urged the board to keep the county’s residents in mind when working on the draft amendments.
After listening to Badawi, commissioners worked with Planner Brandon Shoaf on approving the draft amendment to the Chowan County Zoning Ordinance regarding wind energy facilities.
The changes including adding a requirement for an escrow, modifying the setback requirements, and changing the definitions of various size facilities.
If approved, the amended ordinance would apply only to future wind energy facilities, not those that the commissioners already approved. For example, the Timbermill Wind Farm would not fall under the new rules. If a company came to the commissioners after July 13 with a wind facility project, it would have to comply with the amended ordinance.
Due to the extensive changes that occurred during the meeting, the Chowan Herald will detail the draft amendment in an upcoming edition.
Usually when the zoning ordinance needs to be changed, the planning board hashes out the details and present them to the commissioners for approval. However, in this case, the commissioner presented some changes to the planning board. The planning board held two meetings. Due to a change in the board at one meeting and a lack of quorum at another, it was unable to fulfill the commissioners’ request in a timely manner.
The raw version of the amendments went back to the commissioners, who spent a good portion of Monday’s meeting fine-tuning the text.
If the ordinance amendments are approved, wind energy facilities that already were approved by the comissioners would not have to comply with the amendments. The amendments only apply to projects that come before the board afterward.
A public hearing on the draft amendment is set for July 6.
In other matters, no one spoke at the board’s two public hearings regarding the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21 or the quarter-cent sales tax increase.
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