Blowing Rock windmill vote blows in a debate
By Scott Nicholson
After a year of debate and research, the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners voted last week to enact a ban on windmills and wind turbines in the resort town.
The board voted unanimously on the ban after debating the issue a year ago and passing it along to the planning board for more study. Town manager Scott Hildebran said the board was concerned about aesthetics and the close proximity of the Blue Ridge parkway, which would have authority to make formal recommendations on any project within the national park’s viewshed.
Dennis Scanlin, who has worked on a number of alternative-energy and sustainable efforts in the High Country and oversees Appalachian State University’s wind research station on Beech Mountain, was disappointed in the decision. He said it was likely the first local windmill ban in the state and possible the country.
The proposed policy, drafted by the planning board with input from Scanlin and other wind-energy advocates, limited the size of windmills to 10 kilowatts and required a large setback from property lines that would have required several acres of land as a minimum for a permit.
“Responsible wind energy development can help us keep some of our energy dollars in the state’s economy, produce electricity for the state, which is arguably one of our most valuable resources, stimulate the development of new jobs and industry and help reduce air pollution associated with fossil fuel combustion,” Scanlin said. “Wind energy is not a panacea, but it is free, non-polluting and available to us in western North Carolina. It can be part of a better and more sustainable world. Banning wind turbines just doesn’t make sense to me.
Scanlin said good policies are a responsible step in the era of rising energy prices and concerns over pollution and global warming. “Good public policy should regulate and control the technology, but providing a permitting policy should be an essential part of a responsible law.”
Watauga County became the first county in the state to adopt an ordinance regulating wind turbines, an ordinance which was one of the models for the planning board’s proposal.
The county’s ordinance arose from a concern that the North Carolina ridge law, regulating heights of some structures on mountain tops, didn’t apply to wind turbines or windmills. County attorney Andrea Capua drafted a legal memorandum advising the county that it could draft its own wind turbine ordinance. To date, there has been no case law on the interpreting the ridge law.
Watauga County’s ordinance allows staff approval of residential wind turbines but requires planning board review of commercial or large-scale wind energy operations that seek to sell power off-site.
The county ordinance provides a permitted use designation for small turbines up to 20 kilowatts in size. Restrictions include a maximum height of 135 feet from ground to tip of blade at the highest point of rotation, a maximum rated output of 20 kW, property line setbacks equal to the height of the tower, tower color and other tower use restrictions, and a $75 permit fee .
Larger wind turbines require a more thorough description of the project and potential impacts, a public hearing and approval from the county planning board. The permit fee for a large turbine or commercial operation is $750. The ordinance was adopted last August.
Hildebran said the Blowing Rock board expressed a willingness to revisit the ordinance if technology changed and appearance of the wind turbines was less of an issue.
Wind turbines, particularly on mountain ridge tops, have drawn a lot of attention in the past few years. The Tennessee Valley Authority proposed a wind farm near the Tennessee-North Carolina border in 2002. The state attorney general’s office maintained that the ridge law applied to large turbines but not small-scale, individual turbines.