Wayne County residents will have an opportunity to give their opinion of wind farms during a special meeting of the Wayne County Advisory Plan Commission next week.
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5 in Commissioner’s Chambers at the Wayne County Annex Building.
The public hearing will give those interested or affected by the proposed changes to the county’s ordinance regarding large wind turbines a chance to share their thoughts. EDP Renewables North America LLC, the company that operates the Headwaters Wind Farm in Randolph County, is considering developing a wind farm in Wayne County.
Wayne County’s ordinance would change the zoning requirements for erecting large wind turbines and refine wording in the ordinance regarding small wind turbines.
Large wind turbines are defined as having a total height of more than 100 feet, or a swept area of more than 30 feet, and a capacity of more than 50 kilowatts per tower.
The county ordinance currently requires a special exception from the Wayne County Board of Zoning Appeals, and the ordinance under consideration instead would require a variance from the BZA, said Ken Paust, president of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners. In evaluating the request, the BZA could put additional restrictions on the project.
“It’s harder to get a variance than a special exception,” Paust said. “If it becomes law, it makes it more difficult for the wind turbine company to place wind turbines in Wayne County."
After the public hearing, the advisory plan commission will make a recommendation to the commissioners to approve the ordinance change or forgo it. The plan commission also could choose to make no recommendation either way, Paust said.
On Dec. 7, the commissioners will address the proposed ordinance. Paust said he believes the commissioners will approve making the changes.
Everyone has to have an opportunity for due process, Paust said, and by law, the county can’t outright ban large wind turbines.
A company or individual whose request for a large wind turbine is turned down by the BZA would have the opportunity to appeal the decision in court, Paust said.
“We’re looking forward to hearing what they (the public) have to say, whether they’re for or against,” Paust said.
“People have a lot of questions, and we do not have all the information. We’re trying to collect as much information on the pros and cons as we can,” he said.
The commissioners are working to share the information they’ve gathered with the town councils, which will have decisions of their own to consider, especially regarding the two-mile fringe around each community.
“We’re only responsible for the unincorporated areas,” Paust said.
In Hagerstown, the town council already has announced its plan to protect the community from large wind turbines. The proposal includes extending the flight path regulation covering the Hagerstown Airport to include the community’s entire two-mile fringe. In a flight path area, structures cannot exceed 100 feet in height, and most large wind turbines are taller than that.
EDP Renewables North America LLC, the company that operates the Headwaters Wind Farm in Randolph County, began showing interest in Wayne and Henry counties in 2015. Similar projects have been proposed in Fayette and Rush counties.
Two representatives of EDP made a presentation to the Wayne County commissioners in April 2015, saying then that if the company were to build a wind farm in Wayne County, the towers would be 300 feet tall with a blade span of 495 feet. The project cost was estimated at the time at $1.5 to $2 million.
In recent months, EDP filed a map of proposed new turbine sites in Wayne, Randolph and Henry counties with the Federal Aviation Association. Gaining approval from the FAA that those locations wouldn't have an impact on an airport is one of the first steps a wind farm company makes.
In Wayne County, the map showed potential new turbine sites in the northwestern section of the county, near the Hagerstown and Economy areas.