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Wind farms: Better places than atop our mountains

If the nature of this debate sends one clear message, it's that wind power legislation needs to be thoroughly studied, not rushed through. The locus of the debate isn't over wind power itself, but of size, scale and most of all - location. Sen. Steve Goss of Watauga County wants farms permitted on ridge top locations in his area; Sens. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, John Snow, D-Murphy, and Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, point to the fact that such large structures would run afoul of the mountain ridge law.

The debate over wind power isn't creating some strange bedfellows. It's creating some strange adversaries.

On one side is a Democratic mountain senator. On the other, three Democratic mountain senators.

On one side are environmentalists who love the mountains. On the other side are more of the same.

If the nature of this debate sends one clear message, it's that wind power legislation needs to be thoroughly studied, not rushed through.

The locus of the debate isn't over wind power itself, but of size, scale and most of all - location. Sen. Steve Goss of Watauga County wants farms permitted on ridge top locations in his area; Sens. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, John Snow, D-Murphy, and Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, point to the fact that such large structures would run afoul of the mountain ridge law.

That law was enacted in 1983 following construction of the Sugar Top Condominium, a 10-story block plopped atop a 5,000-foot mountain. It jabs the eye on a visit to Grandfather Mountain, looking as out of place in the march of the ridges as a spaceship might. The ridge law protects ridges 3,000 feet or higher and ridges that rise 500 feet above an adjacent valley... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

The debate over wind power isn't creating some strange bedfellows. It's creating some strange adversaries.

On one side is a Democratic mountain senator. On the other, three Democratic mountain senators.

On one side are environmentalists who love the mountains. On the other side are more of the same.

If the nature of this debate sends one clear message, it's that wind power legislation needs to be thoroughly studied, not rushed through.

The locus of the debate isn't over wind power itself, but of size, scale and most of all - location. Sen. Steve Goss of Watauga County wants farms permitted on ridge top locations in his area; Sens. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, John Snow, D-Murphy, and Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, point to the fact that such large structures would run afoul of the mountain ridge law.

That law was enacted in 1983 following construction of the Sugar Top Condominium, a 10-story block plopped atop a 5,000-foot mountain. It jabs the eye on a visit to Grandfather Mountain, looking as out of place in the march of the ridges as a spaceship might. The ridge law protects ridges 3,000 feet or higher and ridges that rise 500 feet above an adjacent valley floor. Building in these areas is restricted to 40 feet, and can't rise more than 35 feet above a ridge crest. Water, telephone and radio towers fall outside the regulations.

In 2002 the state attorney general said large wind farms would fall under ridge law rules.

By way of comparison, a typical cell tower can rise to around 34 meters; the Sugar Top building is around 40 meters; a commercial wind turbine's hub can rise to around twice that height, the blades themselves even higher.

Current law allows residential wind turbines, but bars wind farms in places such as national parks or national seashores.

The question at hand is whether to allow them on ridge tops.

A glance at a wind resource map of the United States shows there are in fact areas in WNC that would be suitable for large-scale power generation. However, if you're simply looking to go where the wind is, other areas are far better suited. In many of the Plains states, wind farms could be sited in the vast corn and wheat fields with no appreciable aesthetic damage. The same could be said for North Carolina's coastal waters, large swaths of which are rated from outstanding to superb for energy potential. Windmills sited five miles out to sea would not be visible from the shore.

Each location has its unique challenges. Transmission of power from offshore farms is a challenge for the coast.

Here in the mountains, the challenges of wind farms are the challenges these mountains have faced for decades; how much change can be wrought before the fundamental nature, the very culture, of the mountains becomes lost?

This goes beyond aesthetics. Wind farms require roads to move construction equipment, transmission lines to transport the power, etc. A tipping point where we have, for all practical purposes, a ridge top development is easy to envision.

For now, we side with Sens. Nesbitt, Queen and Snow. We should tread very carefully on this issue before lurching ahead with changes to our mountains we may regret.

The wind will still be there tomorrow and next year. For now, when it comes to large-scale wind farms, let's leave it in the bank.


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

JUL 22 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/21356-wind-farms-better-places-than-atop-our-mountains
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