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Chowan commission amends wind ordinance

Rather than reprint the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s immortal “Blowing in the Wind” to lead the reader into this story about Chowan County’s wind energy facility ordinance, let’s cut to the chase.

Monday, county commissioners approved amending the wind ordinance, 4-3, with commissioners Patti Kersey, Bob Kirby, Larry McLaughlin and Ron Cummings voting in favor of the changes. Don Faircloth, Greg Bonner and Ellis Lawrence voted against the amendments.

Changes only affect those projects that come before the board after the amendments were approved. So, they do not affect Apex’s Conditional Use Permit for the Timbermill project in Chowan County, unless Apex seeks an extension when the permit expires in 2021.

The new wind energy facility ordinance includes definitions for private and commercial facilities. The permit application must now include a site plan, environmental assessment, radio frequency study, decommissioning plans and the establishment of a $50,000 escrow account for all county related-expenses.

The new wind turbine height and setbacks will be calculated by multiplying the required setback number by the Wind Turbine Height and measured from the center of the wind turbine base to the property line where an occupied building or resident is located or the nearest point on a public road right of away.

The amendment also addresses sound and shadow flicker, installation and design and decommissioning. All of the established parameters for the three issues – setback, shadow flicker and sound – may be legally waived by a non-participating property owner.

Kersey shared her reasoning for supporting the amended ordinance.

“Because we went forward with a revision to the 8-year-old wind ordinance, there were those who said some commissioners want to scuttle the Apex project,” she said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. I can confidently say that a majority of us want the project to go forward. We differed on strengthening the ordinance which, several of us believe is flawed since there’s been more science to back up harmful impacts of turbine decibels and infrasound.”

Kersey said a majority of commission believed that “if” the Department of Defense approves the siting plan in Chowan County – they could, in fact, scuttle the project because of interference with over-the horizon radar. And “if” Apex is unable to begin construction before its permit expires next year and must request an extension, Kersey said, the county will be in a better position to negotiate the tax payments and increased setbacks for the few vulnerable residences that will be impacted by noise and shadow flicker due to the turbines’ close proximity.

Notably, the Amazon Project received a 67% subsidy in its first year of operation, Kersey said.

“The reality is while the annual payment to the respective counties should be in the millions, it is in the low hundred thousand. In fairness to the county, it is the desire of most of the Commissioners to negotiate a tax arrangement with any potential developer which is favorable to our citizens,” she said. “In addition to a fair tax payment arrangement, our end goal is to provide a more equitable balance between a potential wind energy facility developer, associated participating land owners who will be leasing the land and property owners who do not wish to participate.”

After the meeting, Kirby shared some of his thoughts about the ordinance.

“Overall the goal of the ordinance is to provide a more equitable balance between a potential wind energy facility developer (and associated participating land owners who will be leasing land), and property owners who do not wish to participate,” he said. “I, and the majority of our County Commission are anxious for Timbermill Wind to move forward with their project and look forward to the next phase of activity.”

Kirby said the ordinance allows for two separate classes of turbines, “Private” and “Commercial.”

1. The commercial classification applies to larger facilities, which will sell electric power to electric utility companies.

2. The new ordinance addresses and modifies three touchstone topics specifically:

Setbacks – Will be based on a multiplier of turbine height. Setbacks will be measured from property lines of non-participating land owners.
Shadow Flicker – Will not be allowed on non-participating property.
Sound – Will be limited to a maximum of 45 A-weighted decibels (dbA).
3 . All of the established parameters for the three issues, setback – shadow flicker, and sound – may be legally waived by a non-participating property owner.

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind – Dylan

Eighteen people signed up to speak at the public forum held before the vote.

A wind energy facility supporter, Dennis Dickens of Happy Home Road offered his advice.

“So as commissioners, you are struggling to find new taxes and are proposing a new sales tax on the widows and poor of the county while at the same time making it impossible for new businesses to locate in Chowan. Elizabeth City has Walmart and windmills as people in Chowan continue to worry why we are so anti-business in our community. Please do not allow our community to be labeled as such. The future of new jobs and tax revenue is within your reach.”

A point echoed by Gene Jordan, chairman of the Edenton-Chowan Board of Education, which endorsed a resolution in support of wind projects.

“Please avoid the temptation to move the goalposts in a manner that would be detrimental to business activity in our county and give us a reputation as an unfriendly place for businesses to locate. We need county leaders to send a message encouraging growth in both population and business activity, allowing for growth in our tax base so that essential services, like education and public safety, can be adequately funded.”

Larry Overman Jr., of Ryland Road, spoke on behalf of the farmers when endorsing wind energy facilities.

“In today’s economy, many farmers are struggling financially from bad years of farming. We all enjoy the abundant local food grown by these hardworking families. I have traveled abroad and we are blessed because of our farmers. With farm subsidies continually being on the chopping block, we should do everything we can to help the farmers of Chowan County.”

William Monds, of Center Hill Road, added, “As Commissioners, you understand the right to use our land as property owners and not be over controlled by the government. We are farmers who are trying to make an honest living to support our families and provide jobs for the citizens of this county. Please do not change the rules so much that this project will choose to not locate here and go elsewhere. The added tax revenue in this county, especially with the hardships we have all faced due to COVID-19 would be a welcome addition. If changes are made, I feel that we will not have this opportunity again.”

Win Dale, executive director of the Edenton-Chowan Chamber of Commerce, echoed much the same sentiment.

“Our community has financial struggles even on a good day. Given what we’re facing right now with unemployment, reduced sales taxes and other challenges because of COVID-19, it’s hard to imagine why the Chowan County Commission wouldn’t be rolling out the red carpet for an industry that’s slated to bring us jobs, investment and tax dollars…Our community needs this investment and our county needs the revenue.”

Former county commissioner John Mitchener said, “Having this choice is essential. Unpredictable tariffs and trade wars involving farm commodities are burdensome to Chowan County farmers. Timbermill can provide financial stability to local farms -and- to local families wishing to live here in coming generations. A successful Timbermill should not be discouraged. Yet that is what the current tinkering with Ordinance Article 8.109 seems to invite. However, it happens if Chowan turns Timbermill down Chowan will not have another chance. No future investor will want to do business in Chowan. All should remember that Chowan is not the only game in town.”

And then, there’s the swans. Mike Hamilton, of Center Hill Road, used sarcasm when taking aim at how some folks get their information from the internet – “you can find whatever you want to support your position on the internet as we all know.”

Hamilton dismissed a story about swans’ flight patterns by wind turbines. “I heard how the swans did not come to the Smith farm this past year because of the wind turbines. The last time, I rode by that farm, there were no wind turbines in the field. If the person had taken the time to investigate the matter, they would have discovered fro some reason, different crop types, etc., contribute to the lack of swans visiting the area, not wind turbines.

“I know this to be a fact because when you ride over to Walmart past the Amazon Wind Farm during the right time of the year, there are plenty of swans. Please base your decisions on facts, not fears … I ask you not to change the wind rules and regulations. This new crop or industry in our area will be a benefit to all citizens in the long term.”