Library filed under Zoning/Planning from Virginia
Next week, Bath County planners are likely to discuss and review what may be one of the most important new ordinances our county has considered in decades - one to guide them on how applications for industrializing their mountaintops with wind energy turbine towers will be handled. If officials here succeed in passing it, Bath will be the first locality in Virginia to have an ordinance in place addressing commercial wind utilities. And it won't come a minute too soon. ...
Without investors or a final plan, Highland New Wind Development nevertheless remains optimistic about getting Virginia's first wind energy utility built here in Highland County. HNWD attorney John Flora told county supervisors Tuesday the market for wind energy is down, but the company is proceeding with its plans. ...Because HNWD does not know which kind of turbines it will use, it has not submitted a final site plan, something both the county and state require. Supervisor David Blanchard wondered why the company had not at least put together several site plans based on the options for turbines.
Clarke County Planning Commissioner Kathy Smart, who wants a "greener" home, has an appointment to discuss her heating system. She is considering the installation of a solar- or wind-power generation system to replace the oil furnace that warms her baseboard heating units. But first, Smart must determine if enough wind blows across her property to make a wind-power generation system viable. She is also waiting for the approval of a new county ordinance that would permit small wind turbines for home use.
The three-member committee, appointed in May by the Planning Commission, has drafted a text amendment regulating the installation of wind turbines for residential use that could come before the commission in the fall. The amendment will have another committee review and could be on the commission's September agenda to set a public hearing, county Natural Resources Planner Alison Teetor said this week.
What has taken Virginia Beach officials by surprise is the number of other business owners and residents who are inquiring about propping up their own windmills. "I am averaging one or two calls a week," said Will Miller, a Beach zoning inspector. It has forced Virginia Beach officials to explore ways to regulate the windmills and determine where they can be installed and what federal and state certifications are necessary. "It is large, like a cell tower, and we think there needs to be some guidance," said Kay Wilson, an associate city attorney.
Are the winds of change about to blow through Bath County? While Bath has not been involved in prospective wind energy to the same extent as neighboring Highland County, the board of supervisors has agreed to have the county become the test location for a system that scores parcels of land for their suitability for wind development. ...Bath supervisor Percy Nowlin said he hopes the VRS3 will give the county enough information as it can get as early as it can get it. "Hopefully we can avoid wind energy," he said. "We certainly are not promoting wind. We are trying to get as much information as we can. The more we know about it and the earlier we find out, the better." Nowlin also expressed concern that if national forest land were considered for wind, the county would not be able to do anything about it.
When the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued a permit for the proposed Highland New Wind project in December 2007 it imposed stringent wildlife protection conditions and requirements for further review. The developer asserted that potential investors would lose interest because of the precedent-setting requirements to monitor and mitigate impacts to birds and bats. ... Now it appears that the project faces additional uncertainty as some of the agencies responsible for further review seem unclear about their respective roles in the continuing process.
Highland New Wind Development is stepping up its search for investors, with plans to attend some regional conferences and meetings with potential backers in the next couple of months. HNWD will need financial support for its proposed 39-megawatt wind energy utility, expected to cost upwards of $60 million to construct. The company also needs to secure several permits and other state and federal approvals before it can build.
The Highland New Wind Development wind utility project is moving ahead, H.T. 'Mac' McBride told supervisors Tuesday. "We have approval (from VDOT) for both entrances (state line and cattle crossing on Laurel Fork). The power purchase agreement is being worked on by our people in Minnesota." ...Highland resident Rick Webb told the board, "It has been suggested on multiple occasions that it would be in the county's best interest to require that HNWD develop a habitat conservation plan and obtain an incidental take permit in compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act. The conditional use permit issued by the previous board of supervisors stipulated that HNWD would be required to obtain all required state and federal approvals before the project is allowed to go forward. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have recommended that HNWD obtain an incidental take permit in order to avoid penalties and possible project shut down. The State Corporation Commission acknowledged that HNWD was assuming a business risk by not obtaining an ITP.
Shenandoah Mountain is fit with high-quality breezes and a location near population centers, a necessary combination for wind farms such as the one being sought by a West Virginia firm, a wind expert said. ...Politicians will have their say, too, if the local project moves forward. Del. Todd Gil-bert, R-Woodstock, said his office would be making inquiries soon, but that more knowledge of wind energy is needed before he can form an opinion on it. "I'm one of the biggest proponents for trying to get off the dependence on oil," he said, "but the fact of the matter is, the most cost-efficient energy sources we have are traditional ones, not alternative ones."
On Jan. 31, The Recorder newspaper printed an interview that Judge Theodore "Ted" V. Morrison Jr. gave to Anne Adams, staff writer for the paper. He was one of three commissioners on Virginia's State Corporation Commission, which recently approved Virginia's first industrial wind project in Highland County over well-organized protests from residents and landowners. Morrison has been on the SCC for 19 years ...Morrison stressed the federal production tax credits are what make commercial wind facilities attractive, but the reality is the renewable electricity utilities will never substantially change the country's need for larger power plants.
Local governments in western Virginia are beginning to craft land-use regulations to give them tighter control over where wind turbines could be built, even as energy companies study the area's potential for large wind farms. Mountainous Bland and Bath counties are looking to develop ordinances governing wind turbines. Giles County, meanwhile, recently created a permit process that allows farmers and landowners to build and operate single turbines; but the permit process does not open the door wider for commercial wind farms. The permit process is similar to ones adopted by Pulaski and Rockingham counties. ...The prospect of more money did not persuade Patrick County officials to embrace wind farms. Last year, amid hue and cry from landowners after a Pennsylvania company's proposal to build 20 giant turbines several hundred feet high in Patrick, county supervisors adopted an ordinance banning structures of more than 100 feet high. The company dropped its proposal.
A bill which would have eased environmental restrictions for a controversial wind farm slated for construction in Highland County has stalled in committee. As previously reported in the Hook, Senate Bill 324, introduced by State Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), would have exempted all electric facilities that generate and distribute renewable energy with a capacity of no more than 50 megawatts.
State legislators may soon make life easier for a company looking to build a controversial wind farm in Highland County. A new bill in the General Assembly would exempt certain small electricity-generating facilities from state environmental regulations and requirements, so long as they operate on renewable energy. Senate bill 234, introduced by State Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) two weeks ago and currently being considered by the Commerce and Labor Committee, would exempt all electric facilities that generate and distribute renewable energy with a capacity of no more than 50 megawatts. ...Rick Webb, a senior scientist at UVA and nationally-recognized wind energy expert, believes that the passing of this bill is crucial to the Highland County wind farm's success and that without the bill's passage, Highland New Wind would face potentially devastating repercussions for failing to abide by the Endangered Species Act. The proposed wind farm's location is in the center of several caves that are home to two species of endangered bats: the Virginia Big-Eared bat and the Indiana bat.
Last week, the State Corporation Commission granted conditional approval for the company to build up to 20 turbines, each about 400 feet tall, on Red Oak Knob and Tamarack Ridge near the West Virginia border. ...McBride's project faced considerable opposition from environmentalists. It was widespread among residents who see Highland County as a pristine rural area and "a sort of last frontier," Sullenberger said. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries summarized the opposition in a September 2006 letter to the SCC. "We support the use of alternative energy sources, including wind energy" the DGIF said. "However, we feel this project presents an unacceptable risk to wildlife."
Highland New Wind chose not to seek a federal permit to protect the wind farm from possible immediate shutdown by government order if an endangered or threatened animal is killed or injured. That's a risk that regulators said the company is free to take if it wishes. Another battleground was how much Highland New Wind will pay for wildlife measures. Thursday's ruling initially capped monitoring costs at up to $150,000 a year. It capped shutdown-related expenses to benefit wildlife at either $50,000 a year or 0.85 percent of revenue from the prior year, whichever is higher. Previously released case documents said the project is expected to generate lots of cash long-term. Company financial analysts predicted Highland New Wind could earn an annual profit of $4.2 million after major expenses are paid off in 10 to 15 years. With state approval now in hand, the company said it will begin recruiting investors.
The first wind-powered electric generation project in Virginia will be permitted on the remote ridges of Highland County, the State Corporation Commission said Thursday. The commission granted conditional approval to Highland New Wind Development's $60 million proposal to place 19 turbines more than 400 feet tall on a 4,400-foot ridge near the West Virginia border. The company must spend up to $150,000 a year to monitor and mitigate harm to birds and bats that could be caused by the whirling turbine blades, the SCC said. Environmentalists have contended many endangered species would be threatened by the project, and an SCC hearing examiner concluded that the turbines were a "significant risk" to bats and "a lesser risk" to birds.
The VA SCC issued its final order that conditionally approves the Highland New Wind Development, LLC application to construct and operate a wind energy generating facility in Highland County, Virginia, near the West Virginia border. The proposed facility would consist of up to twenty (20) wind turbines of up to 2.00 MW capacity each. The order included comprehensive monitoring and mitigation for wildlife impacts (bird and bat) and could serve as a model for other projects. One of the commissioners dissented on a provision in the monitoring and mitigation plan.
As neighboring Highland County continues contentious discussions on commercial wind power, Bath County officials have taken another step toward learning what they can and should do to prepare for more inquiries from the wind industry about developing ridge tops here. Though supervisors and planners agreed they need to plan head, the federal lands making up half the county could mean there's little they can do to prevent the industry from taking hold.
In yet another round of testimony, the environment played a central role in discussions on how a proposed 39-megawatt industrial wind utility may or may not be harmful to some of the richest and rarest species of wildlife in Virginia. Tuesday, the courtroom at the State Corporation Commission was host to nearly more lawyers than private citizens. This was the second hearing hosted by the SCC, one requested by commissioners after they remanded Highland New Wind Development's application for a state permit back to their hearing examiner for more information. Specifically, the SCC wanted to gain a fuller understanding of how damage to species and the environment caused by the 18-20 turbines proposed along the 4,000-foot Allegheny Mountain ridge might be prevented or mitigated were the state to grant a permit for the facility. And by the end of the day, testimony had not been completed and the hearing examiner ordered a continuation through Wednesday.