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Watauga to allow windmills - Commissioners adopt rules for single systems; process stricter for commercial use

Watauga County became yesterday the first county in North Carolina to adopt an ordinance regulating wind-energy systems. The board of commissioners established rules by which the county planning staff may approve single windmills that generate electricity for on-site use. A more comprehensive process with review by the planning board would be required for commercial wind farms.

The ordinance has basic guidelines for someone to put in a windmill to supply power for a home or several homes, but creates stringent requirements for commercial-scale windmill farms.

Environmentalists who spoke at a public hearing last month supported the idea of having windmills as a clean-energy alternative in one of the country's best places to catch wind energy.

But people still worry about how windmills would affect the mountain vistas.

In 1983, the General Assembly enacted the provision that's commonly called the "Ridge Law." The law limits building heights to 40 feet on ridges at or above 3,000-feet elevation or that are more than 500 feet above a valley floor.

The Ridge Law was adopted after the public outcry over the Sugar Top resort in Avery County.

Windmills are mentioned in the Ridge Law. But people disagree - even within the county government - on whether the language of the law allows windmills, or whether it was the intent of the law to allow them. No case law has tested the meaning.

The law applies to tall buildings, but makes exceptions for "structures of a relatively slender nature and minor vertical... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

The ordinance has basic guidelines for someone to put in a windmill to supply power for a home or several homes, but creates stringent requirements for commercial-scale windmill farms.

Environmentalists who spoke at a public hearing last month supported the idea of having windmills as a clean-energy alternative in one of the country's best places to catch wind energy.

But people still worry about how windmills would affect the mountain vistas.

In 1983, the General Assembly enacted the provision that's commonly called the "Ridge Law." The law limits building heights to 40 feet on ridges at or above 3,000-feet elevation or that are more than 500 feet above a valley floor.

The Ridge Law was adopted after the public outcry over the Sugar Top resort in Avery County.

Windmills are mentioned in the Ridge Law. But people disagree - even within the county government - on whether the language of the law allows windmills, or whether it was the intent of the law to allow them. No case law has tested the meaning.

The law applies to tall buildings, but makes exceptions for "structures of a relatively slender nature and minor vertical projections of a parent building, including chimneys, flagpoles, flues, spires, steeples, belfries, cupolas, antennas, poles, wires or windmills."

After informal discussions with staff in the state Attorney General's office, planners said they were told the interpretation or regulation would be left to the county.

Andrea Capua, one of the Watauga County government's attorneys, wrote a legal memorandum that was formally adopted as part of the regulations and says single-wind turbines are exempt from the Ridge Law.

The memo does not deal with legal rights to use wind turbines as part of a large wind farm.

The Watauga County commissioners unanimously adopted the regulations, but said they may have to adjust the rules as they see how things work out.

"Since this is the first one in North Carolina, there are probably some things we need to refine as we move on," said board Chairman Jim Deal.

• Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at 336-667-5691 or at mmitchell@wsjournal.com.


Source: http://www.journalnow.com/s...

AUG 8 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/3861-watauga-to-allow-windmills-commissioners-adopt-rules-for-single-systems-process-stricter-for-commercial-use
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