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Getting Ahead of the Game: A Wind Energy Ordinance for Bath County

Next week, Bath County planners are likely to discuss and review what may be one of the most important new ordinances our county has considered in decades - one to guide them on how applications for industrializing their mountaintops with wind energy turbine towers will be handled. If officials here succeed in passing it, Bath will be the first locality in Virginia to have an ordinance in place addressing commercial wind utilities. And it won't come a minute too soon. ...

Next week, Bath County planners are likely to discuss and review what may be one of the most important new ordinances our county has considered in decades - one to guide them on how applications for industrializing their mountaintops with wind energy turbine towers will be handled.

If officials here succeed in passing it, Bath will be the first locality in Virginia to have an ordinance in place addressing commercial wind utilities. And it won't come a minute too soon.

Leaders in Bath have been smartly advised by county planner Sherry Ryder. She has kept them up to speed on how the wind industry is evolving in this state, notified them whenever she gets inquiries from wind power representatives, and attended several meetings and conferences to learn more about these facilities.

The potential for a large wind company to set its sights on Bath County is very real, and Bath knows more about the implications than most other Virginia counties. Residents in Bath have watched their northern Highland County neighbors immerse themselves in the debate on wind power for years. They have no desire to follow the same tumultuous path Highland's been following, and getting an ordinance passed in Bath... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Next week, Bath County planners are likely to discuss and review what may be one of the most important new ordinances our county has considered in decades - one to guide them on how applications for industrializing their mountaintops with wind energy turbine towers will be handled.

If officials here succeed in passing it, Bath will be the first locality in Virginia to have an ordinance in place addressing commercial wind utilities. And it won't come a minute too soon.

Leaders in Bath have been smartly advised by county planner Sherry Ryder. She has kept them up to speed on how the wind industry is evolving in this state, notified them whenever she gets inquiries from wind power representatives, and attended several meetings and conferences to learn more about these facilities.

The potential for a large wind company to set its sights on Bath County is very real, and Bath knows more about the implications than most other Virginia counties. Residents in Bath have watched their northern Highland County neighbors immerse themselves in the debate on wind power for years. They have no desire to follow the same tumultuous path Highland's been following, and getting an ordinance passed in Bath will be one of the best ways to prevent that from happening.

The Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission spent months researching wind power for Highland residents when Highland New Wind Development first proposed a wind plant on Allegheny Mountain. Senior planner Darryl Crawford compiled extensive information and statistics for Highland supervisors. His most urgent advice to them was: develop land use regulations to address wind energy utilities. Highland didn't follow that advice, and has been forced to pay an uncomfortable price for that decision ever since.

Without an ordinance, Bath is just as vulnerable as other Appalachian localities. But its considerable national forest lands - half the county's property - makes it more so.

Commercial wind energy companies are beginning to turn to federal property in the East; one utility has already been proposed traversing national forest acreage. The attraction is understandable. Constructing utilities on private property often requires dealing with multiple landowners on transmission line rights of way and leasing arrangements. Sometimes, wind developers who can't get complete cooperation with these individuals will approach local governments about using eminent domain - forcing landowners to sell - with all the attendant challenges that action generates. No wonder, then, that federal property would be in many ways far easier.

By enacting an ordinance, Bath County can protect its citizens on both fronts - for private residents and the acres of the Warm Springs Ranger District. Bath supervisors are aware they may not have any control over what happens on national forest land, but the board has always carried some weight on national forest issues, and in some cases, some influence about what happens there. Should the ranger district here be targeted for industrial development of any kind, forest officials will certainly give serious consideration to the board's positions.

At risk in Bath are many of the same issues faced in Highland County: Detrimental effects on water tables and supplies; negative impacts to the environment and its wildlife; and the potential effect on the scenic assets that drive Bath's tourist-based economy - one just beginning to make inroads on broader tourism efforts.

The Nature Conservancy holds its largest Virginia tract in Bath at the Warm Springs Preserve. Existing power lines may be insufficient, requiring a wind project to add new transmission corridors to carry the electricity. Its citizens have already expressed a less than welcoming opinion about the lucrative and powerful companies taking advantage of their backyards and their tax dollars. Because Bath's ridges are not quite as high, wind companies may need more and taller towers for their turbines. Property values in Bath, like Highland, are higher in the most scenic of spots - homes with vistas.

Twice, Bath officials have had inquiries from wind energy folks taking the temperature here, assessing interest, need, and most importantly, the county's regulations in place. We should not be surprised if a developer submits an application within the next year for a utility.

There's little time to lose. Bath planners now have a starting point with this draft ordinance, and there will be time to get this right, but not much. It's good the county has forged ahead instead of sitting on its hands waiting for James Madison University's group to finish guidelines on wind energy siting issues.

Ryder's draft ordinance will be tweaked and its points debated several times, but something will need to be adopted as soon as possible after reasonable review coupled with public input.

Let's hope Highland County will follow suit, and get moving on an ordinance of its own, as it should have done five years ago.


Source: http://www.therecorderonlin...

NOV 20 2008
http://www.windaction.org/posts/18021-getting-ahead-of-the-game-a-wind-energy-ordinance-for-bath-county
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