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Winds of change may bring energy source

Supporters of sustainable energy are supporting a county ordinance that would allow for development of windmills while keeping true to the intent of a state law that limits development on ridge tops.

The Watauga County planning board is discussing the proposal after the North Carolina Wind Energy Program at Appalachian State University invited county officials to tour a three-acre wind farm on Beech Mountain last week. Dr. Dennis Scanlin, one of the project’s researchers, said the demonstration site will be open at least through the year, with funding from the N.C. State Energy Office and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Five wind turbines are in operation at the site, part of a broader project to test different alternative energy sources. Scanlin said hydroelectric and solar photovoltaic research was also part of the program, but the wind farm has already yielded benefits by being connected directly into the power grid.

“We’ll use the photovoltaic system there because solar and wind complement each other,” Scanlin said.

The five wind turbines range in size, with the largest generating 20 kilowatt hours and the smallest generating 400 watts. Two are linked directly to the power grid while the others feed into a battery system which then feed the grid.

Scanlin estimates the five windmills generate 80,000 kilowatts a year, about enough to run eight average American households.... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
The Watauga County planning board is discussing the proposal after the North Carolina Wind Energy Program at Appalachian State University invited county officials to tour a three-acre wind farm on Beech Mountain last week. Dr. Dennis Scanlin, one of the project’s researchers, said the demonstration site will be open at least through the year, with funding from the N.C. State Energy Office and the U.S. Department of Energy.
 
Five wind turbines are in operation at the site, part of a broader project to test different alternative energy sources. Scanlin said hydroelectric and solar photovoltaic research was also part of the program, but the wind farm has already yielded benefits by being connected directly into the power grid.
 
“We’ll use the photovoltaic system there because solar and wind complement each other,” Scanlin said.
 
The five wind turbines range in size, with the largest generating 20 kilowatt hours and the smallest generating 400 watts. Two are linked directly to the power grid while the others feed into a battery system which then feed the grid.
 
Scanlin estimates the five windmills generate 80,000 kilowatts a year, about enough to run eight average American households. Though the output may seem small, it is the potential that has Scanlin and fellow researchers thinking big. The same power that maddens autumn leaf-rakers and March laundry-chasers can be harnessed right at home.
 
“It’s just one piece of a sustainable energy future,” Scanlin said. “We can easily produce a significant portion of our energy. There’s high wind in the mountains and on the coast. It’s clean, sustainable and inflation-proof and can lead to new jobs and new businesses and industries.”
 
Scanlin said the idea is a natural in the mountains, with Watauga County having some of the highest recorded wind speeds in the state. Though the windmills at the research site are experimental, Scanlin said a bank of larger wind turbines could provide 10 percent of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation’s power for the year.
 
“There’s an economy of scale with larger units,” Scanlin said. “That can make it more attractive. Watauga County has the highest number of privately owned windy acres in North Carolina. It ought to be seriously considered here. Close to 10,000 families own land with potential for wind resources.”
 
Though some are concerned with the visual impact caused by ridge-top wind turbines, Scanlin said a state ridge law passed several decades ago specifically excluded wind turbines. However, he and planning officials are seeking legal clarification of the ordinance, which was passed in response to the development of high-rise condominiums at Sugar Mountain and limits the height of commercial buildings.
 
Under a proposed county ordinance, wind turbines would be limited to a height of 135 feet and have a setback of 150 feet from the property line. The proposal also includes noise, permitting and Federal Aviation Administration requirements. The planning board will be discussing a possible ordinance Monday night.
 
Scanlin said such an ordinance would help define a responsible approach to wind energy. The Beech Mountain wind farm is a public area, with ASU leasing the property. An educational kiosk allows people to learn more about wind energy. Researchers  track wind speed, temperature and energy output as well as hosting workshops.
 
The farm is also “beta testing” some new wind turbines to compare different technologies, with a number of companies now manufacturing them. Scanlin compared the wind farm to an “outdoor museum” that allows visitors to learn the statistics of different types of turbines. It might also inspire people to erect their own private wind turbines, which is why an ordinance might be needed.
 
“We’re working with the county commissioners to clarify the legality of wind turbines on mountain ridges,” Scanlin said. “We need a permitting process to help clarify the guidelines.”
 
Watauga County planning director Joe Furman said the planning board would have to make two decisions on the issue: whether the Ridge Law was applicable to windmills and whether the county is interested in further regulation of ridge top development or windmills. Any proposed ordinance would go through a public hearing before consideration.
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Source: http://www.wataugademocrat....

MAR 20 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1798-winds-of-change-may-bring-energy-source
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