Planning Commission endorses wind turbines despite viewshed impacts

For some people, the sight of a small wind turbine merrily turning in the breeze behind a house or business is a beautiful thing. After all, a turbine represents that much less energy that must be produced by, say, burning coal. Yet others may find the structures unsightly, especially in contrast to a bucolic Albemarle view.

Those concerns arose at a November 17 Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, but ultimately commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of allowing wind turbines in the county. The proposal, which deals with small turbines on residential, farm and commercial property, will go before the Board of Supervisors on December 9.

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). Turbines would be allowed only with a waiver in Historic Districts and Mountain Overlay Districts. They would be prohibited from supporting lights or cell phone antennae.

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.”

Along with Butler, Commissioner Linda Porterfield was concerned about allowing turbines by-right in the county’s Entrance Corridors (protected zones that include most major roads). But she couldn’t find any support among her fellow commissioners for changing the proposal. Commissioner Bill Edgerton, who along with Commissioner Marcia Joseph and Supervisor David Slutzky worked to draft the proposal, said that adding more administrative layers to the process would be counterproductive.

“My interest is in leaving the door open for encouraging people to move to renewable energy,” he said. “When you’re looking at a minimum investment of $25-30,000 [to install a turbine], you’re looking at a fairly significant decision to make.”

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