Wind farm proposal considered
Credit: Wind farm proposal considered | By Shannon Watkins | Galax Gazette | Saturday, February 5, 2022 | www.galaxgazette.com ~~
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Grayson County has made no advances on bringing in wind turbines, though a town hall-style public hearing was held at the Jan. 11 planning commission meeting to garner citizens’ opinions on the topic.
The specific item up for discussion was amending the zoning ordinance’s language regarding renewable energy. If approved, seven wind turbines could be built along ridgelines in locations including Buck Mountain and Whitetop to catch the wind and produce power in accord with green energy standards.
County Administrator Bill Shepley said a company had submitted an application, and he had received strong feedback on both sides of the issue. At the town hall meeting, five speakers said they were in favor, with a sixth expressing in an email some reservations and offering an alternate solution.
In the absence of objection, though, most of them called for caution, consideration and research before making any hasty decisions.
The planning commission members spoke little; ceding the podium to the citizens.
Each speaker was brought into the meeting individually, masked. Planning Commission Clerk Jada Black said that this was for protection, due to the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Gloria Price of Elk Creek stated that she was a 30-year resident of the county, along with her husband, Todd. “We think renewable energy is really important,” she said.
Price went on to say that she thought the county had learned from what it had seen in the Christmas tree industry, and told about an Asheville, N.C., couple they knew who were honeymooning in the area, and looking for a place to relocate. The couple thought the county was beautiful, but were taken aback by the sight of Buck Mountain, which they thought had been top-mined.
“That concerns us very much,” Price said. She suggested contacting wildlife groups in the area to see what kind of effect the wind turbines would have, and that they “just keep talking to the people.”
Clean energy option
Joyce Rouse of Independence described Grayson County as “a place of unique and unparalleled beauty.” She and her husband, she said, have powered their home partly with “solar, wind and micro-hydro power for the last 40 years.” She said that meant they had “diverted more than 330,000 pounds of pollution from the atmosphere.”
She was in favor of the turbines being built, saying that others she had seen, when their blades were turning, “appear as graceful, giant ballet dancers across the landscape.”
Rouse also condemned the aftereffects of the Christmas tree industry, saying it led to “clear-cut ravaging of mountaintops for a single-use holiday decoration that is now poisoning the air, the soil and the water of our common home. There are many responsible growers in the county, but others have shown us over and over that they are not going to be the good neighbors we expect in Grayson County.”
Rouse added, “We don’t need more dysfunctional ecology… basically, we have a chance to be part of the solution.”
A long process
Michael Svedman of Denver, Colo. – a project director at REV Renewables, an affiliate of LS Power – addressed the planning commision briefly to say the company was talking to locals to see if they were interested in the project. “I’m a resource for landowners to talk to and ask questions,” Svedman said. He later left his contact information with commission members.
“It’s a long process, and certainly there are no guarantees,” Svedman admitted of the work involved in getting renewable energy to the county. “A wind energy project isn’t just gonna show up tomorrow and start being built.”
He explained that a project like a wind farm takes many steps to complete, and that those worried about one springing up would have plenty of time to make their feelings known to the local government.
“A project greater than five megawatts, any large-scale development greater than 20 acres of solar or two or three wind turbines, requires a special use permit process, which requires the company to come before the board,” he said. The process would also include public meetings, notices in local newspapers and wildlife studies, among other things.
“We are at the point where we’re investigating,” said Svedman.
Elizabeth Kafka of Independence made three points to the planning commission regarding renewable energy. “I would like to argue against singling out renewable energy,” she began. “Ridge laws are a different issue. I would love to see all development stopped on the ridges, but we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about renewable energy.”
She described living near a canyon in Utah that offered a lovely view outside her kitchen window, until a wind farm was put in her view, which involved four years’ construction.
Kafka said that at first she was upset at losing her lovely view to wind turbines, but by the end of construction, “my feeling changed entirely. I got a thrill every time I saw them outside my kitchen window. They’re magnificent. It was graceful, it was slow, no noise. I think those things power 6,000 houses. They’re just wind made visible.”
She said they drove property values up in her neighborhood, as well.
Her second point was about demographics. “So, do we want to remain the kind of place where old people die off and young people leave?” she asked. She had solar power at a different home, but would have left that area if not allowed to, she said.
Kafka said her point was that, “A lack of options might be a dealbreaker for all kinds of people. If you single out sustainable energy, you might as well put a sign at the edge of town that says, ‘If you have an education, you’re not welcome here. We don’t want your taxes or investment or the jobs you might create.’ That’s the message, flat out.” She suggested that those things would come from people who could afford to live where they chose.
Her third point was about national defense, she said. “We are in total denial of how fragile our power grid is. It would be really easy for some bad actor with engineering knowledge to knock out our power. We spend a lot of money on weapons, but we don’t think about actual defense.”
Kafka continued, “I just like to look at things clearly, and I project it’s just a matter of time before locally-distributed power is considered patriotic. I’m always just a little surprised that in a culture with good old country self-sufficiency, local power sources don’t get more interest.”
She said she was surprised at the indifference to what she saw as a bad system. “People don’t seem bothered by the unhealthy alliance between utilities and the government that takes money from my pocket and yours,” Kafka said. “Those institutions excel at two things: short-term thinking and whitewashing. In my opinion, having local sustainable power is a type of freedom and I think it’ll become more important as time goes on.”
Sarah Hash-Trimble of Independence said she had written a letter to the county government, but felt that speaking in person was also necessary, and that it was another chance to “fight for our land, our family and our county.”
She continued, “I’ve lived in Grayson County my whole life. I’ve seen changes happen and work out for the best, but I’ve also seen businesses open and then shortly close; news of big possibilities and then silence about the possibilities.”
Hash-Trimble said that at the time it came, she had opposed the cell tower placed on her property, “but now we use it every day as a necessity. Wind energy is clean, substantial and domestic energy that can be produced right here and bring revenue, not just to the landowners, but to the county.”
Wind farm concerns
Black then read an email from Anne Marie Selaya of Elk Creek, who listed a number of concerns about changes to the regulations.
Among them were the potential impact of wind turbines on tourism. “People don’t generally mind seeing wind turbines as they drive past, but rarely drive towards them to stay,” Selaya said.
She also expressed concern for the possible danger posed to birds and bird migration. “Special care should be taken not to adversely hurt them and their habitat,” cautioned Selaya, who also wondered if, to clear space for turbines and solar cells, clear cutting or herbicides might be put to use, further devastating the area – akin to damage caused by Christmas tree farming.
She also cited the possibility of blinking safety lights being a disturbance for residents who like to enjoy evenings outdoors, and asked if power from ridgeline installations would be offered to county citizens at a discount.
Selaya proposed instead that renewable energy geared for individual households could serve the same purpose on a smaller scale.
The town hall meeting concluded with no discussion after Selaya’s email was read.
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