Plenty of Energy at Turbine Meeting

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by Gene Marrano

On Tuesday Night the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors received an earful from citizens at a public hearing but tabled their vote on a proposed large wind-turbine ordinance until their September 13th meeting. At which time board chairman Butch Church said they will enact some kind of ordinance. None of the supervisors indicated which way they would vote relative to accommodating the Poor Mountain site.

Most of the comments conveyed by dozens of speakers – more than 50 signed up for their three minutes at the podium – have been covered in previous hearings before the board or the Roanoke County Planning Commission, which approved its version of an ordinance that would cover large wind turbine installations in the future.

“We would like to work in good faith with you folks,” said Roberta Bondurant, an attorney and resident of Bottom Creek, which is near the proposed wind turbine farm. The turbines would generate electricity that would be fed into the AEP power grid.

This meeting reflected a shift in the discussion. Speakers seemed to realize that an ordinance is coming; now their focus is to make sure it protects residents living near these types of installations against loss of property value, health hazards and the like. “[We’re] asking for a reasonable ordinance. Make sure you’ve made the best possible decision,” noted Bent Mountain resident Patty Haines.

Some liked the proposed ordinance first crafted by the Planning Commission, while others wanted to see the setback from turbine tower to adjacent property increased or decreased. Many seemed okay with the 60 decibel noise limit from tower to adjacent property line – but others wanted to see the noise limit lowered.

While the regulations would cover installations anywhere in Roanoke County, the focus of Tuesday’s (Aug. 23) public hearing was the 18-tower wind turbine farm proposed for leased land on Poor Mountain, from Chicago-based Invenergy.

“You have an excellent ordinance,” said Jonathon Miles, a professor at James Madison University who spent 18 months at the Department of Energy recently, in the section devoted to wind power. “We have potential and we have an opportunity [on Poor Mountain].”

Those who spoke against the ordinance, or more specifically against the Poor Mountain proposal, talked about 440’ towers and 165’ turbine blades that would mar the view shed, cause harm to bats and birds, or might pose a health hazard. Supporters of the wind ordinance tried to debunk such theories saying claims to that end are based on old data.

Rob Lawson said he came with his family to live in Roanoke about eight years ago, with the mountain views being a primary consideration. Even the Sierra Club, which endorsed the Invenergy proposal locally, opposes wind turbines in areas known for their scenic beauty, according to Lawson. “Why would [Poor Mountain] even be on the table?” he asked.

Private pilot Jerry Pulverino disputed any notion that the towers would be a hazard to those flying in and out of Roanoke Regional Airport. “Airplanes do not routinely fly over Poor Mountain – we fly around it,” said Pulverino. “What we put on Poor Mountain is not going to have a direct impact.

Southwest Roanoke County resident James Garris, a long time local activist, acknowledged that an ordinance is likely to be enacted soon. Now he just wants it to be a good one; “adapt a framework of rules – what information is expected from an applicant? Having that framework is so important.”

Garris reminded others in attendance that a special use permit would still be required for each particular installation – involving another public hearing and a vote from supervisors.

“We have once again heard some very good points, pro and con,” said Butch Church as the public hearing, more than three hours long, wrapped up. “We’ll make our decision on September 13th. It’s a difficult [issue] no matter where you stand.” The September 13th meeting is not a public hearing. Church does wish to see the wind turbine debate wrap up, saying “we want to do the right thing [but] we don’t want to labor on forever and ever.”