HERTFORD — Perquimans commissioners will not require new industrial-sized wind energy turbines to be erected farther away from private residences.
The six-member commission board deadlocked three-three along partisan lines Monday on a county Planning Board recommendation to increase the setback for new wind turbines to half a mile.
Voting for the new setback requirement were Republican commissioners Matt Peeler, Wallace Nelson and Kyle Jones. Voting against it were board Chairwoman Janice Cole and commissioners Edward Muzzulin and Fondella Leigh. The three opponents are Democrats.
Because the vote to adopt the recommended setback ended in a tie, the issue is considered dead. Unlike most other local governing boards, the Perquimans Board of Commissioners does not have an odd number of members.
Commissioners did adopt some of the recommendations the county planning board made. One was requiring a new developer to set up a $50,000 fund to pay for consultants if they are needed to deal with special issues that arise during consideration of a project. The board also agreed to take a look at the consequences of what happens if a turbine blade falls off or ice forms on the blades and is thrown off. These so-called “blade drop” discussions will take place when it comes time to review an actual project.
However, a majority of the commission did not embrace the planning board’s recommendation for a half-mile setback between wind turbines and the nearest home.
The county’s current ordinance does not set an actual setback in terms of feet or yards. Instead it requires wind turbine towers to be built two and half times their height from the nearest home and one and a half times their height from the nearest property line for a non-participating landowner.
The de facto setback on a 600-foot turbine — the maximum allowed under the current ordinance — is 1,500 feet to the nearest home. A half-mile setback would be 2,640 feet.
Nelson told the audience of about 80 at Monday’s meeting that he had heard from both sides of the setback issue and tried his best to give them all consideration.
“But I believe we need to have some type of change to increase the setbacks,” he said.
Peeler, the board’s chief advocate for a bigger property setback, continued to insist that wind turbines aren’t safe for the residents who live near them. He made several motions, all of which died for the lack of a second, before making a final plea to other board members that they revisit the setback issue at a later date.
That motion also died for a lack of a second.
Supporters of a larger setback requirement in the audience expressed disappointment with the board’s deadlocked decision. Alan Lennon, a Republican seeking a seat on the Perquimans Board of Commissioners in the March 15 primary, suggested the lack of a larger setback might spark an exodus from the county. He said the “Protect and Preserve” orange yard signs scattered across the county in support of tighter wind energy project rules will soon come down and be replaced with “For Sale” signs.
Judie Hoffler, wife of Joseph Hoffler, a Democratic candidate for commissioner in the March 15 primary, also spoke in opposition to wind energy projects at Monday’s meeting. Hoffler said she and her husband traveled to the western United States and were surprised to see so many wind turbine projects there. She noted wind turbines there were all far away from where people live.
“Why can’t we learn from other people’s mistakes?” she asked.
Tommy Harrell, a local farmer, said he was disappointed the board hadn’t listened to the voices of citizens who have questioned wind power. More than 900 signed a petition requesting tighter rules.
Harrell’s property is near where a wind turbine might be built. He said given the threat of “ice throw” there are parts of his land where he won’t be able to go for fear of being hit by flying ice.
Monday’s decision won’t have an impact on the Amazon wind project being developed in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties. Iberdrola Renewables has a permit for the project and is in the process of erecting just over 100 turbines.
A future board of commissioners could affect Apex Clean energy’s proposal to build a $500 million, 100-turbine project in Perquimans and Chowan counties. Apex has not yet applied for a conditional use for the project, but expects to do so sometime this spring, company spokesman Kevin Chandler said.
What a future board of commissioners might do is unknown. Both Cole and Peeler are not running for re-election. Jones is seeking re-election, but appeared to suggest the wind project will likely move forward.
Saying he was quoting something a former commissioner once told him he said, “When you lose, you move on.”