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NC wind farm plans await regulations; Some WNC lawmakers want limits on Mitchell project

The prospects for harnessing the winds whipping across a mountain ridge in Mitchell County depend on which way the wind blows in the General Assembly. Some lawmakers want to create a permit process for wind farms in the mountains, while others want to ban such clusters of windmills from ridges. Officials say they are poised to lure a wind-energy company and its green jobs to Spruce Pine if legislators open the door.

The prospects for harnessing the winds whipping across a mountain ridge in Mitchell County depend on which way the wind blows in the General Assembly.

Some lawmakers want to create a permit process for wind farms in the mountains, while others want to ban such clusters of windmills from ridges.

Officials say they are poised to lure a wind-energy company and its green jobs to Spruce Pine if legislators open the door.

Spruce Pine Mayor Ralph Hise said the potential wind farm would be the first of its size in WNC.

Dozens of windmills, their blades extending as high as 400 feet into the air, would stand atop a ridge above town at the site of a former feldspar mine, he said.

"This would be a wonderful opportunity for Western North Carolina to have a demonstration project that everybody could look at, and I think it would be a good tourist attraction as well," said Rep. Phil Frye, a Republican from Spruce Pine.

The town owns part of the site, and Frye said the owners of the rest of the land, known as the Penland-Bailey property, are willing to lease it.

Hise described the developer only as a "major player," but Frye identified it as Acciona Energy, a Spanish company... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

The prospects for harnessing the winds whipping across a mountain ridge in Mitchell County depend on which way the wind blows in the General Assembly.

Some lawmakers want to create a permit process for wind farms in the mountains, while others want to ban such clusters of windmills from ridges.

Officials say they are poised to lure a wind-energy company and its green jobs to Spruce Pine if legislators open the door.

Spruce Pine Mayor Ralph Hise said the potential wind farm would be the first of its size in WNC.

Dozens of windmills, their blades extending as high as 400 feet into the air, would stand atop a ridge above town at the site of a former feldspar mine, he said.

"This would be a wonderful opportunity for Western North Carolina to have a demonstration project that everybody could look at, and I think it would be a good tourist attraction as well," said Rep. Phil Frye, a Republican from Spruce Pine.

The town owns part of the site, and Frye said the owners of the rest of the land, known as the Penland-Bailey property, are willing to lease it.

Hise described the developer only as a "major player," but Frye identified it as Acciona Energy, a Spanish company with seven wind farms across North America.

Acciona has been eyeing North Carolina since lawmakers passed a law in 2007 requiring utilities to tap renewable sources of energy.

Acciona project developer Tim Conboy said the company is interested in some sites in the state but can't discuss a particular site for competitive reasons and because it's awaiting clearer guidance in state law.

"The permitting bill, how it goes one way or another, will have a big impact on whether we can go forward," Conboy said.

Regulations sought

The bill is scheduled for consideration Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee.

In its current form, it deals only with the coast, allowing coastal wind farm permits to be blocked if they harm wildlife, navigation or views from a state or national park.

But Democratic senators from the mountains plan to propose inserting ridge protections into the bill that would forbid large wind turbines.

Those senators, Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville, John Snow of Murphy and Martin Nesbitt of Asheville, say they want to allow smaller windmills for powering houses but not a large-scale farm.

Large turbines dotting the ridges would mar mountain landscapes, they say. They prefer them to go elsewhere.

"Wind energy is very important to us, as long as it's in appropriate places," Nesbitt said.

The state's ridge law deals with wind power only vaguely, but has been interpreted to ban large-scale wind energy projects.

The law was spurred by construction in the 1980s of a 10-story building on Little Sugar Mountain.

Queen says the Spruce Pine project would dwarf the Sugar top structure.

"The windmills they're proposing in Mitchell County are half again as big as that," he said.

Hise said the property is already scarred by mining, ruining views.

And Frye said the permitting process would weed out unwise projects.

Because the strongest winds blow on mountain ridges, advocates of wind power say building in those spots is the only way to achieve large-scale wind-energy production in the region - something they say is needed to meet the energy law's mandates, wean the state off foreign oil and draw jobs.


Source: http://www.citizen-times.co...

JUL 13 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/21153-nc-wind-farm-plans-await-regulations-some-wnc-lawmakers-want-limits-on-mitchell-project
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