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Wind power raises storm; Legislators shaping bill to limit use in N.C. hills

State senators are now considering a bill that -- as it's currently written -- would effectively ban any large-scale generation of wind power in the mountains. The bill appeared to be headed for passage in the Senate last week because it had the support of several key Democrats from the mountains. Allowing large wind turbines would "destroy our crown jewel," said Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe. But Sen. Steve Goss, D-Watauga, broke with the other western legislators, saying that the ban goes too far.

BOONE - Douglas Uzelac, the general manager of the Broyhill Inn and Conference Center at Appalachian State University, wasn't quite sure he wanted North Carolina's largest wind turbine going up in the inn's back yard.

"My main concern is what would it do for the guest's experience at the Broyhill," he said. He especially worried that the noise would be disturbing.

The 34-foot blades have been turning on the 121-foot tower less than a month now, and Uzelac said he's had no complaints. Instead, guests have asked so many questions about the wind turbine that he printed information sheets to hand out to the curious.

He plans to install a display in the lobby that will show how much electricity the turbine is generating, and he sees the wind turbine as an asset in demonstrating how people can be better stewards of the environment.

"What better cool thing than to have a wind turbine in your backyard when you're talking about going green," he said.

But 200 miles away, in the halls of the N.C. General Assembly, a desire to promote renewable energy has bumped up against a legislative effort to protect the natural beauty of the mountains. Some legislators from mountain counties worry... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

BOONE - Douglas Uzelac, the general manager of the Broyhill Inn and Conference Center at Appalachian State University, wasn't quite sure he wanted North Carolina's largest wind turbine going up in the inn's back yard.

"My main concern is what would it do for the guest's experience at the Broyhill," he said. He especially worried that the noise would be disturbing.

The 34-foot blades have been turning on the 121-foot tower less than a month now, and Uzelac said he's had no complaints. Instead, guests have asked so many questions about the wind turbine that he printed information sheets to hand out to the curious.

He plans to install a display in the lobby that will show how much electricity the turbine is generating, and he sees the wind turbine as an asset in demonstrating how people can be better stewards of the environment.

"What better cool thing than to have a wind turbine in your backyard when you're talking about going green," he said.

But 200 miles away, in the halls of the N.C. General Assembly, a desire to promote renewable energy has bumped up against a legislative effort to protect the natural beauty of the mountains. Some legislators from mountain counties worry that the beauty of the mountains could be ruined by the construction of commercial wind farms along mountain ridges.

State senators are now considering a bill that -- as it's currently written -- would effectively ban any large-scale generation of wind power in the mountains.

The bill appeared to be headed for passage in the Senate last week because it had the support of several key Democrats from the mountains.

Allowing large wind turbines would "destroy our crown jewel," said Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe.

But Sen. Steve Goss, D-Watauga, broke with the other western legislators, saying that the ban goes too far. He offered an amendment that would allow local governments to decide if they want to allow large turbines.

After meeting privately, Senate Democrats decided to send the bill back to a committee without taking a vote. Goss said that he and other western legislators will try to rework the bill. He said that he is as committed as anyone to preserving the beauty of the mountains, but he also does not want to close off the state to the advancing wind-energy technology.

"We will protect our mountains. There's no doubt about that. But the bottom line is we can't shut out a technology that might be a partial answer to our future energy problems," Goss said.

The construction of large wind turbines is already restricted under the prevailing interpretation of a 1983 law known as the Ridge Law, which aimed to protect the mountains from development.

The bill now in the Senate would go further than the Ridge Law. It would allow windmills no more than 100 feet tall to be used primarily to generate electricity for a private residence. But it would ban any new facilities taller than 100 feet, and any new turbines used for the commercial generation of electricity.

Wind turbines -- and the broader concern over how to keep out unwanted development in North Carolina's mountains -- have been emotional issues for decades in mountain counties.

The construction of condominiums on top of Sugar Mountain led to the passage of the Ridge Law in 1983. And from 1978 to 1983, an experimental wind turbine stood on Howard's Knob and quickly became unpopular.

That turbine had two 97-foot-long blades. People didn't like the sound made by the blades, and they blamed the turbine for disrupting television signals.

The new technology is much quieter.

The wind turbine at Appalachian State produces a soft "whoosh, whoosh, whoosh" as the blades cut through the air. The generator produces a slight hum. It's difficult to hear when the wind picks up, because the sound of the wind moving through tree leaves masks the noise from the turbine.

The $533,000 project was paid for by ASU students through a $5 Renewable Energy Initiative fee collected each semester. Students approved the assessment of the fee in a 2004 referendum.

The turbine, which is considered a community-scale model and has potential to generate enough electricity to supply about 10 to 15 typical households a year, can be seen from spots across campus and from downtown Boone, as well as from the entrance to Boone along U.S. 421. It's less than half the size of an industrial-scale turbine common to wind farms.

Crystal Simmons, the student manager for the turbine installation project, said she understands that wind power can be contentious, but that people must deal responsibly with meeting energy needs.

"A condominium is not a necessity for society, but energy is," she said. The turbine at ASU was not subject to the Ridge Law as it's now written, because it doesn't stand at a high enough elevation. But Simmons worries about legislators banning wind power in the North Carolina mountains.

She testified before a Senate committee last week, not on behalf of ASU, but as someone who grew up in Avery County.

"I made a plea with them about how taking away the right for Western North Carolinians to do with their land what they want, within reasons, undermines the spirit of the people here," she said.

Some people who oppose wind turbines in the mountains don't want them under any circumstances. But many people who fought a proposal for a commercial wind farm in Ashe County in 2007 made a distinction between small wind turbines and the industrial-scale turbines whose tower and blades stand nearly 400 feet tall.


Source: http://www2.mcdowellnews.co...

JUL 20 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/21306-wind-power-raises-storm-legislators-shaping-bill-to-limit-use-in-n-c-hills
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