Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Setback for Large & Utility Scale Wind Turbines

It’s already Tuesday morning. The Roanoke County Planning Commission will meet in a work session to discuss the “large and utility scale” wind turbine ordinance amendment on Tuesday.

My last recollection was that McNeil and Peters were committed to relaxing previously included setback and decibel rating standards. Jarrel and Hooker started to relax their concerns but no definitive language was proposed at that meeting. The last specific pursuit was to reduce the setback back down to 110% of the total vertical height of the wind turbine from 400% of the height.

Discussion of noise impact seemed to be influenced greatly by the commissioners’ “field visit” to Beech Ridge Wind Energy Center, Duo, WV. Mr. Peters brought a decibel meter along on that tour and shared the decibel readings the instrument displayed at a variety of locations throughout the Wind Energy Center. Based upon their recent experience, none of the commissioners on April “felt” that a 60 db limit would be problematic.

Here is a link to the deliberations of the Planning Commission on April 19, 2011:

During the Beech Ridge visit; in my role as an interested citizen opposed to industrial scale wind turbine installations on the Appalachian ridges based upon current generation, transmission and distribution design; I was cautious to avoid interfering with the educational experience of the Planning Commissioners, by imposing my perspective upon them before they could develop their own.

It seems to have turned out that the commissioners were far less intimidated by the “monstrous industrial scale wind turbines” than they might have been.

There were many other wonders to absorb. The ridge tops at Beech Ridge were much broader than our ridges back home. Their mountains had been degraded by over harvesting timber and coal mining operations for decades. The ridge tops were strangely comparable to the natural balds at Mount Rogers, White Top and the Grayson Highlands. Yet, there was no lush proliferation of higher elevation species. There were only struggling domesticated grasses and invasive plants from alien ecosystems. We travelled broad roadways for several miles seeing very little active home places.

An area of vast remote landscapes of depleted timber and mining fields over the past century. The streams were wider and faster than our creeks, but not promoted as trout streams. Could it have been because the trout vanished due to ecosystem disruption? Lower water retention equals faster run-off and higher water temperatures. The landscape was much less agriculturally fertile than the Bent Mountain side of Poor Mountain, back home.

How do we place a value on these mountainscapes?

As this discussion continues on, I am beginning to question the acceptability, in terms of our Planning Commission’s stewardship responsibilities, of permitting the proliferation of thousands of 1.5 MW, 2.5 MW, 4 MW and larger wind turbines on the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains including the Blue Ridge chain in Virginia. This is the direction were going with “overreach” in terms of unwillingness to reduce our consumption of energy and our eagerness to accept the sacrifice of our precious natural environment. Our mountains are becoming more war-torn and scarred with every passing year due to our own ambivalence.

Over 12,000 turbines would have to populate Virginia’s ridges to currently satisfy a meager 20% of our total electricity use on a solely supplemental basis.

I do NOT support sacrificing our vistas and ecosystems for our energy gluttony.

Height and Setback Issues

Simulation of Installation on McCallum Property
After visiting Beech Ridge, studying the impact of the small wind turbine ordinance as applied on the McCallum wind turbine project on 12 o’clock Knob; I ask the commissioners to please utilize all of the resources they have at their disposal to consider the community impact more closely from a 100’ tower limit on a 1+ acre tract, (Unfortunately, this is what our current small scale wind turbine ordinance allows in our county. This is certainly a major imposition on typical subdivision neighbors.) to the landscape dominance thousands of 40 to 50 story tall wind turbines destroying ridge top environments.

Fortunately, there are currently rapid advances being made in the alternative energy industry. Sauer Energy is initiating manufacture of highly efficient, smaller vertical axis turbines in August of this year. These units and others like “Windspires” are much more suitable for urban and suburban environments than the nostalgic relics of the past. These smaller scale site-based generating systems offer extraordinary promise in reducing our dependence upon fossil fuels without imposing white elephants on our neighbors. Our small and residential scale ordinance must require a higher standard in more densely populated areas.

In the amendment for large and industrial scale turbines, visual dominance in the landscape and altered eco-systems due to denuding miles of ridge tops, setbacks from non-participating property lines is clearly the most effective, measurable, enforceable standard available.

We heard the whooshing Turbines at Beech Ridge at 3000 feet away from them, downwind.
Many governing localities around the globe including Beech Ridge, WV have used the World Health Organization standard setback from habitable property of One (1) Mile for a 1.5 MW wind Turbine without regard to specific height.

I have proposed a
property line setback of 3,500 feet per each One (1) MW of name plate capacity
 of the turbine. This must be a property line setback, not a setback from an occupied dwelling, as that would surely impact the property value without just compensation. Our Planning Commissioners and Supervisors have a responsibility to become highly informed about such dramatic impositions on our land use.

Noise and Nuisance Issues

During the Beech Ridge trip, Planning commissioners and staff noted more disturbing sounds emanating from the substation than from the wind turbines 1000’ and more away, yet the ordinance addresses no specific design use and design standards relative to noise setback and or buffering for sub-stations.

Defining acceptable standards for obnoxious sound in terms of db ratings alone is not enforceable. The purest form of acoustical science is performed with mathematical calculations in controlled sound chamber environments were variables can be controlled. In the natural world there are just too many variables such as ambient sounds, air density, air speed, direction, humidity, topographical amplification, periodic and resonating sounds. Ordinances based upon db ratings alone can only be enforced by subjective judgment.

Physical distance from potential obnoxious sound generators is widely accepted as being the most effective audio-nuisance deterrent.