Wind turbines may green Albemarle energy, and alter its views

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Last night I had a wild time hanging out at the Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting. (Not really. I mean, I really was there, but it wasn’t really that wild.) Interesting news, though: The commissioners discussed, among other things, a proposal to allow small wind turbines in the county, on residential, farm, or commercial property.

County staff have been hammering out all the administrative procedures (in some cases, turbines would be allowed by right, while in others, you’d have to go through additional review before putting one up.) The commission voted 4-0 to approve the idea and it will go before the Board of Supervisors on December 9.

During the public hearing, one county resident stood up to say that she was "thrilled" about the idea of wind turbines. Other speakers—Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council and Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center, both frequent commenters on green and development matters—expressed enthusiasm too, but with some caveats. "What I’m most concerned about is we know folks will say something when they see these things going up," said Werner. "The visibility issue is going to be there. We’ve all worked so hard on [protecting] viewsheds and we don’t want to give that up, even with the benefits of wind turbines."

So here we have an interesting conundrum. Renewable energy = good. Unsightly structures = bad. Some people certainly find wind turbines appealing, but others will recoil at the sight of tall, industrial-looking structures within Albemarle’s bucolic landscape. If we start putting up wind turbines, will we open the door to other, more ugly development?

For me, there are further questions: What does it mean that our usual sources of power—coal and nuclear plants—are completely hidden from view most of the time? And how do you weigh the other effects of those plants (environmental, social, health) against the value of a beautiful, "unspoiled" view?

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