Wind farm concerns aired in Floyd County

February 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Floyd County resident Dan Vest addresses the county's board of supervisors during Tuesday night's public meeting on the issue of an ordinance aimed at barring wind turbines from county ridgelines.

Photos by Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times

Floyd County resident Dan Vest addresses the county’s board of supervisors during Tuesday night’s public meeting on the issue of an ordinance aimed at barring wind turbines from county ridgelines.

Members of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors listen to a speaker during Tuesday night's meeting about wind turbine regulations.

Members of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors listen to a speaker during Tuesday night’s meeting about wind turbine regulations.

More than 30 speakers debated Tuesday night whether wind farms belong in Floyd County. But after two hours, there was no clear winner or direction.

The Floyd County Board of Supervisors will reconvene Feb. 14 to continue deliberating whether to keep industrial windmills out or permit them under tough regulations to protect residents and the environment.

Supervisors have proposed prohibiting all equipment more than 40 feet tall on ridge tops except electricity, telecommunications and TV gear, which would appear to leave no room for windmills that normally extend hundreds of feet into the sky. The measure arose from a citizen petition against wind energy after several wind-generation companies began scouting Floyd County for possible sites.

On Tuesday at Floyd County High School, citizens had their say.

“If I want to put one in my field, it’s my business. It ain’t none of y’all’s business,” Elmer Underwood told supervisors. He and others told supervisors not to meddle with private property rights by placing development restrictions on ridge-top structures.

Others in Floyd want a law against windmills to safeguard the region’s natural beauty, resources and rural tranquility.

“I don’t want to wear hearing protection on my front porch,” Rusty Bambarger said.

Supervisors also heard from wind-energy skeptics who advised that the industry can’t be trusted and from others who said renewable energy must be embraced for the good of Floyd and beyond. No one from a wind-generation company spoke.

Billy Weitzenfeld, who directs the Floyd-based Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, called for the formation of a task force. “You do not have the fact-based information to make a decision,” he said.

Jonathan Miles, who directs the Virginia Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University, offered to help supervisors craft a better ordinance. The center has state and federal resources to help communities deploy wind energy across the state, he said.

Wind energy is “technology that really is ready for prime time,” Miles said. “They’re safe, and they’re not very noisy.”

Floyd County is going down a path Roanoke County took last fall. Anticipating that a wind energy company will soon submit a formal proposal for Poor Mountain, Roanoke County adopted zoning guidelines that say wind turbines will be at least 1,000 feet from all homes and emit no more than 60 decibels of noise when heard from the nearest property line. The measure has been challenged in court by residents who want more restrictions.

The Floyd County draft ordinance prohibits the construction, repair or improvement of structures more than 40 feet high on any ridge 2,000 feet or more above sea level and 500 feet or more above an adjacent valley floor, a geographical catchment area that covers much of Floyd County. The ordinance makes an exception for water, radio, telecommunications and television towers; equipment for transmitting power, phone service or cable TV; 11 types of “slender” structures such as chimneys, flagpoles and steeples attached to buildings; and state or federally designated historic landmarks.

Case Clinger, who is chairman of the board, said before the meeting that supervisors have changes in mind before taking a vote. One would raise the protection zone to 2,700 or 2,800 feet above sea level and higher. Clinger and fellow supervisors were told repeatedly that another needed change would lift the height limit from 40 feet to 100 feet or so. Otherwise, it could become illegal to build, repair or improve silos and tall homes, speakers said.

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