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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Roanoke County Wants a Wind Farm? E I E I O!

Last night I watched about four hours of Roanoke County's Board of Supervisors meeting. Yeah, I do things like that sometimes, although I was playing Blackjack on my Kindle as I was listening. All of the speakers were either "for" or "against" establishing a wind farm in Roanoke County on Poor Mountain. A couple of observations...

I think more people spoke "for" the wind farm than against it. However, most of them did not live on Poor Mountain, or in Roanoke County. Some live many counties away and there was one person from West Virginia who takes people on tours of the wind farm that's established there.

The "for" people were well organized. For weeks little green lawn signs proclaiming "We support wind energy...It's Patriotic!" have been dotting the area. I've been asking who paid for them and have been ignored by the local media. Finally someone answered my question on a blog and said it was the local Sierra Club. I figured it was them, but was perplexed as to why they wouldn't "take credit." I could only imagine the outcry from the local media had an "anti-wind farm" organization planted signs and proclaimed "It's Patriotic!"

The "for" speakers last night clearly had been well prepared and directed as to what talking points needed to be established, over and over and over again. It was like they were reading from the same bullet-point sheet. One thing that struck me was how they all had a problem with the setback requirements. They felt they were too stringent!

I noticed the more initials and degrees they had after their names, the more annoying and disrespectful they were. At times I felt like I was watching the smug Prius owners "South Park" episode where they loved the smell of their own farts.

Before each person got up to speak I would turn to my husband and say, "for" or "against" just based on their look. Once they opened their mouth I was usually correct. I felt many were very condescending to the folks who live on Poor/Bent Mountain. It's like they think of them as rubes, and too stupid to realize how "wonderful" this wind farm will be.

I felt bad for the local residents who are fighting these behemoth life-altering wind turbines. When they got up to the lectern for their three minutes you could feel their pain. Many of the residents are elderly and have lived on Bent Mountain their whole lives. I imagine anyone who chooses to live on the mountain has done so because they love that way of life. Although it's beautiful and serene, it's not for everyone. It's not easy to get there, residents are often "stranded" in winter months, and there's not much up there, other than stunning vistas, abundant wildlife, a tight-knit community, and a peaceful existence. And that's all some people want.

The "against" folks aren't necessarily against different energy resources, including wind energy. They're just against it in their backyard. After hearing some of their concerns and doing quick research I can't say I blame them. Although they didn't throw a multitude of facts, figures and fancy shmancy degrees around they spoke from their hearts and did bring up some pertinent points...

The sound level -- right now the Board of Supervisors is looking to allow the noise factor to be no higher than 60 decibels. At the end of this post you can hear for yourself what an actual wind turbine at the level sounds like, but I think one speaker was more effective when he said what 60 dbs sound like. He said something to the effect, "This is me speaking a couple of feet away from you and it's about 60 dbs...not bad, but picture me speaking to you at this level 24 hours of day, 7 days a week -- blah, blah, blah, blah, blah -- and you can't shut me up." With my low tolerance of sound, that alone would drive me insane.

The setback level -- too close to homes. It's not like people do not live on top of the mountain. They do. Obviously the closer these turbines are to their homes the louder it will be. I don't understand why the "for" people want the turbines even closer.

There were a couple of teenaged boys who brought models to scale of the enormous size of the turbines -- 440 feet tall if I'm correct, higher than the Statue of Liberty. The tissue box sized home was dwarfed. The blades themselves are 165 feet in length and this made me pause. How the hell would they get up Bent Mountain? The road is twisty curvy and barely navigable to me in my Jeep. I can't imagine a tractor-trailer navigating it with those blades on its bed.

Someone else spoke about all the wind farms that have been abandoned because they didn't work, or the companies went out of business, and just left the turbines like rotting corpses. A quick Google search shows there are thousands upon thousands of dead rusting turbines dotting the landscape. No one is removing them. I wonder if they still offer "tours?"

Another person reported that electricity use in the Roanoke Valley is at its peak during summer months. Wind barely blows during those same months. I don't know if or how the electricity is stored, but I would think wind production would be a factor in deciding where to put a wind turbine.

I don't know anyone who is not "for" finding clean, renewable energy sources. I don't know anyone who would be "for" having an industrial wind turbine farm in their backyard. So after watching over 4 hours no action was taken, and won't be taken until September. The Board of Supervisors have a very difficult task ahead. The smell of money is wafting under their noses. If they allow this farm to proceed it will set a precedence. Any mountain top will be up for grabs. Will Sugar Loaf Mountain be next?

If they don't establish regulations that can be enforced we're screwed. What happens if the sound goes over 60 dbs and its intolerable? What could be done after the fact? Once they're up, they're up. Oh, of course all the supervisors will wag their fingers and say how much they want to protect the valley, yada, yada, yada but in the end I predict the wind farm will pass with a 4-1 vote. The only no will be Ed Elswick who lives on Bent Mountain. At one point I thought Butch Church might say no, as his district is Catawba and there are quite a few mountain tops there as well, but this is an election year. I believe he'll say this will bring jobs to Roanoke, so with a "heavy heart" or something to that effect, he has no choice but to vote for it.

Anyway, in case you'd like to read a family's personal experience, check out "Our Life with DeKalb Turbines" blog. Below is a video of what they listen to


  1. Elena,
    nicely done, as you know i live no where near Poor Mtn., so my opinion barley mattters. As you dive thru Germany you see these windmills all over the place i was amazed, never expected it. I happen to find them majestic, and i am facinated by them. Most likely they would be helicoptered into place not driven up crooked road. I would hope that the against people were savy enough to hire and attorney to get some benfits thrown their way, probably not based on your discriptiion. Up Here in NJ i am Chairman of town Plannign board, we expect federal legislation shortly to end the debate across the country, so in the future meeting such as the one you attended will be pro forma and govenerned by federal regualtions. the sad part is that no one thinks to establish rules of departure, such as posting of bonds to pay for the removal in the event that the company that built them abandons them, but hey we are not here to protect the citizens(sarcasm intended)only to conte.

  2. Wow, from the video, you'd think they would want those sound walls that are provided to homeowners near Interstates to lessen the noise.

    Those windmills get their share of migrating birds as well.

  3. Frank, once the federal government gets involved then I'd really worry, but I think mandating the posting of bonds is an excellent idea.

    Slam, I don't think they make walls high and thick enough that would lessen the noise and for some reason I doubt these wind companies would pay for it even if they did...

  4. I was there and spoke against the proposed ordinance. If the County was serious about what the noise levels at property lines would be with these 2.5 MW GE industrial wind turbines they could have hired an acoustical consultant and had the consultant prepare a report based on analysis of readily available information.........using the proposed Invenergy project as a test bed. The report should have been done while the ordinance was being drafted prior to the Aug 23rd meeting. The acoustical consultant would need the published sound power level of the proposed 2.5 MW GE wind turbines, the relative location of the turbines to the property line/dwellings around the project,and topography info to crunch the numbers to determine the estimated noise level at the property line. If the estimated noise level is too high at the 1/4 mile setback that pro-wind wants then the only recommendation would be to increase the setback distance beyond 1/4 mile until the noise criteria is met. There really is nothing else that can be done to reduce the noise of these turbines once they are in operation. They don't make sound barriers that high! The other side of the noise story is the 60 db(A)at night is very noisy for residential areas. Not an issue during the day. But at night 60 dba would likely be problematic. Modern nightime noise ordinances in residential areas are max 45 db(A)!

  5. Anon, I agree that 60 db would be problematic at night. Sound issues, as well as removal plans if the company goes belly up, etc., definitely need to be addressed before these turbines go up...once they're up, they're there to stay.

  6. Wow, this is a really good post Elena. I had been pretty much for the wind turbines, but I have to admit that listening to that blog is enough to REALLY make me rethink things.
    And, yes, they are reading bulletin points over and over and over and over and over. They have meetings to make sure they do just this.

  7. Thanks Mama...Imagine having to deal with it on a 24/7 basis. I feel their pain.