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Ordinance to prohibit wind farms in Carroll

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By limiting ridgetop development, a proposal would blow away chances for electricity-generating windmills.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — A promise of increased tax revenue from a wind farm on Stoots Mountain did not sway the Carroll County Board of Supervisors to accept an EDP Renewables project.
Instead, the supervisors at their regular September meeting on Monday gave their attorney until January to draft an ordinance prohibiting such developments in Carroll.
This comes after the county board formed a windmill committee consisting of supervisors Josh Hendrick and Bob Martin to study the matter, and after the county hosted a public hearing Aug. 13.
“From all forms of public input received, more people have spoken out in opposition of a utility-scale windmill project in Carroll County than those who are in support,” according to Hendrick’s report at this week’s meeting. Reasons for opposition “ranged from environmental impacts, landscape preservation, to potential health risks.”
Though Carroll would have received revenue from the windmills in the form of machine and tool taxes, county officials did not know how much that would amount to, he continued.
“The windmill committee is of the opinion that a utility-scale windmill project will not be overly beneficial to the general public of Carroll County,” Hendrick read.
The committee did not make a specific recommendation on what the board should do about windmills, saying only that supervisors should make a decision in a timely manner.
Before proceeding on with that decision, the supervisors allowed three citizens to state their opposition to the windmill idea.
Rodger Jennings, who also spoke at the prior public hearing, said he believes that wind energy development on the mountain ridges carries too much risk of environmental harm and doesn’t offer enough benefits.
He singled out the impact on bats as an example. One bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes.
Jennings fears that even the best-designed windmill would generate what’s been called a “relentless rumble,” he said. “The low frequency sounds like a thudding vibration and travels much farther than the usually measured audible noise.”
As the infamous outdoor festival “Stompin’ 76” proved nearly four decades ago, noise carries great distances in the mountains, Jennings said.
Jennings also submitted for the supervisors’ consideration the results of an 82-page report from McCann Appraisal on Adams County, Illinois, showing there’s an effect on windmill neighbors’ real estate.
Immediate effects on people nearby include sound-proofing homes, dealing with “shadow flicker” caused by the spinning blades and paying medical bills due to sleep deprivation, according to Jennings.
Then there’s a loss of marketability of homes near wind turbines, he added. In a range of two miles, homes may lose up to 40 percent of their value.
Though Jennings stressed he isn’t fond of zoning, he pointed to a statement in Carroll County’s most recent update of its comprehensive plan: “Zoning is intended to avoid disruptive land-use patterns by preventing activities on one property from generating external effects that are detrimental to other properties,” he read.
While Jennings worried about the sounds citizens might hear, G.L. Quesenberry talked about what they were not hearing.
He used his time to warn the supervisors about the overuse of closed sessions, a certain number of exceptions that public boards can use to discuss sensitive topics out of the earshot of citizens.
Remembering that the supervisors’ wind turbine discussions arose in a closed session, Quesenberry believes that the supervisors should keep most topics public.
Do away with closed sessions, he advised.
“While we do not know what is going on behind closed doors and what is not, it gives the appearance the board is attempting to hide something,” Quesenberry said. “Supervisors, look what closed doors got us with [failed log home manufacturer] AmerLink.”
He also finds illogical the argument that economic development prospects will go elsewhere if their intentions to set up shop in a certain locality get leaked.
“It is time to bury this dead horse,” Quesenberry said. “Corporations go where they get the better deals.”
On a petition for the windmills circulated by Bryan Dixon that came up at the August public hearing, Quesenberry said only 12 of the signers actually live in the Laurel community near Stoots Mountain.
The other 90 signers live in Galax, Hillsville, Fries, Ivanhoe and other places, he told the supervisors.
Andy Jones simply told the supervisors he’s still against the windmills and that he leaves it up to the county officials to do the right thing on it.
The supervisors briefly discussed what to do about wind turbines.
“I’m convinced there’s not really any good reasons to have it in Carroll County,” Martin said.
Though he’s heard from a Laurel Fork resident that supports the windmill idea, Martin felt that the citizen might not feel so positive if the turbines were going to locate in his yard.
As Martin understands it, wind power is only feasible because of government subsidies.
Supervisor David Hutchins noted that the proposal would put the wind development in his district of Sulphur Springs. He talked to people from the affected area about wind energy at the Carroll County Ag Fair, and no one seemed very interested in having it.
The supervisors have been provided with a tremendous amount of information on wind farms and they have seen draft ordinances from other localities.
Hutchins stressed that whatever the supervisors decide to do, they must protect all the ridge lines in Carroll County.
Then, he moved for County Attorney Jim Cornwell to work on an ordinance to prohibit wind turbines by the new calendar year. Martin seconded the motion and all the supervisors voted to approve it.
During supervisors’ comment time, Hendrick said he doesn’t believe that wind mills are a viable energy source with the current technology.
On a related matter, Hendrick noted that the topic of zoning development regulations come up from time to time, such as when a motocross track was built east of Hillsville.
“Something come into the county that people didn’t want, but at the same time the entire county as a whole don’t want zoning,” the Laurel Fork supervisor said.
“People need to have their property rights protected and that’s exactly what zoning does,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m against or for zoning, that’s just the devil’s advocate view…”