KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, July 22, 2009
A furious battle over the aesthetics of wind energy has erupted in North Carolina, where lawmakers are weighing a bill that would bar giant turbines from the state’s scenic western ridgelines.
The big machines would “destroy our crown jewel,” said Martin Nesbitt, a state senator who supports the ban, according to a report in The Winston-Salem Journal.
As it currently stands, the bill would ban turbines more than 100 feet tall from the mountaintops. Residential-scale turbines (typically 50 to 120 feet high) could still go up, but the industrial-scale turbines that can produce 500 times as much power or more would be effectively ruled out. The legislation appeared likely to pass the state Senate last week, but got sent back to committee.
Such a ban would be virtually unprecedented, according to Brandon Blevins, the wind program coordinator for the the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and it would make roughly two-thirds of North Carolina’s land-based wind potential unavailable.
(The state is also starting to look offshore.)
“I know of no other state that has so uniformly banned wind,” he said. State lawmakers, Mr. Blevins noted, voted not long ago to enact a renewable portfolio standard requiring North Carolina to get 12.5% of its electricity from renewable energy and efficiency measures by 2021. “Now they’re stripping away some of the most cost-effective options for their utilities” to achieve those targets, he said.
Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, said that while some counties around the country have enacted height bans, the association is unaware of similar bans “covering large areas.”
“The main objection seems to be appearance, and the reality is that many people find wind turbines elegant and a symbol of a clean energy future, and that wind turbines often become a tourist attraction,” she said in an e-mail message.
The North Carolina bill has roots in a 1983 law that barred most structures taller than 40 feet along the state’s ridgelines — though exceptions were made for communications towers and windmills, Mr. Blevins said.
An early version of the current bill, supported by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, would have kept big turbines away from the Appalachian Trail and other landmarks, but granted local governments the authority to allow them in other areas.