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Future of Tazewell wind farm looks bleak
A proposed wind farm project might be dead in Tazewell County. The future looks bleak for the project after the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to prohibit development of tall structures on the county’s scenic ridgelines. “I think this proposed tall structure construction carries with it too much public controversy and too little public revenue,” said Supervisor Mike Hymes, who cast the deciding vote on a divided board.
February 3, 2010 by Debra McCown in Bristol Herald Courier
TAZEWELL, Va. – A proposed wind farm project might be dead in Tazewell County.
The future looks bleak for the project after the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to prohibit development of tall structures on the county’s scenic ridgelines.
“I think this proposed tall structure construction carries with it too much public controversy and too little public revenue,” said Supervisor Mike Hymes, who cast the deciding vote on a divided board.
Supervisors David Anderson and Jim Campbell also voted in favor of the ordinance. Supervisor John Absher, who voted with Chairman Seth White in opposition to the ridgeline ordinance, cited a need to respect property rights.
“I have a hard time telling property owners what to do with their land,” Absher said. “I feel like the government has too much control over that.”
The project is one of two announced in far Southwest Virginia a year ago by Dominion and BP Wind Energy. The other, planned for the ridges of Black Mountain in Wise County, has received enthusiastic support from that county’s board.
Ryan Frazier, spokesman for Dominion, said the company is “evaluating several options” with regard to the Tazewell County project in the wake of Tuesday’s decision.
The ordinance, which prohibits structures taller than 40 feet on the ridgelines and structures taller than 120 feet above a certain elevation, does allow the possibility of building them with a variance.
However, “The odds of that happening are very slim,” County Attorney Eric Young said.
“We are proud of the supervisors,” said Charlie Stacy, a member of the Mountain Preservation Association, which formed to opposed the project. “They saved one of God’s greatest creations tonight from devastation.”
Frazier said the Wise County project is still in the early stages of development and would require state and federal permits, but all the local approvals necessary for the project have been granted.
Other than the two announced projects, Dominion has no plans to develop wind farms in far Southwest Virginia, he said.
The Tazewell County project would have placed up to 60 wind turbines along East River Mountain; the Wise County project would put as many as 100 on Bluff Spur, Nine Mile Spur and Rogers Ridge.
While the Wise County site is fairly remote, the Tazewell County site is “one of the most visible corridors in Tazewell County,” said Ann Robinson, also a member of the Mountain Preservation Association.
“There are some things in this life that you can’t put a price on,” Robinson said, adding that Tazewell County would see little benefit from the sacrifice of its most scenic ridgelines – and she’d support a nuclear power plant for the county instead if it meant jobs.
Robinson said project opponents also take issue with the government subsidies provided for “green energy” projects, with the feeling that it amounts to a form of corporate welfare for technologies that have very little merit on their own.
Alex Payne, a landowner on East River Mountain who could have leased property for the project, said it would have brought benefits in terms of tax revenue, income to landowners, construction jobs and a handful of permanent jobs.
“People don’t like change,” Payne said before the meeting, “and we have to change.”
The project has gone thorough several public hearings in the past year, with comments on everything from the impact on birds and bats to potential negative effects on tourism.
In Wise County, where a proposed project received enthusiastic support, now-chairman of the board of supervisors J.H. Rivers last summer called the wind farm proposed there “a win-win situation for Wise County.”
That project has also gained the support of the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition, the group of environmental organizations that is fighting a legal battle against the coal-fired power plant under construction in St. Paul.