After nearly a year of debate, the possibility of wind energy farms in Pamlico County moved over a hurdle Monday night, with a first-reading passage of an ordinance by the county commissioners.
Because the vote was not unanimous following a public hearing with speakers both pro and con, the measure goes to a second public hearing on Sept. 3. At that time, the board can approve the governing ordinance for the 500-foot wind mills with a simple majority vote.
The vote to approve was 5 to 2, with Commissioners Chris Mele and Kenny Heath voting against it.
Commissioners Paul Delamar III and chairman Ann Holton, along with Jimmy Spain, Pat Prescott and Carl Ollison voted for its approval.
Mele has been an opponent of the wind mills since the county was first approached last summer, citing negative impacts to Cherry Point training over the county and noise impacts on citizens among other things.
Heath, who said he wanted the board to take all the time it had (including a second public hearing) to decide, said he would likely vote for it the next time.
The public hearing brought Robert Scull, a member of the Sierra Club, who said that while the club supports renewable energy and the jobs it can bring, the club asked that the commissioners not take a vote and get more public comment.
The board also heard from Neil Jones of Kimley-Horn and Associates of Cary, a design and engineering firm. He said he was a consultant for several companies looking at development in Pamlico. At a meeting last August, he said he came “as a developer” for a wind energy company that is no longer in business.
He told the commissioners that the current ordinance was too stringent in several areas, including 1,250 minimum setbacks for 500-foot towers, which he termed “excessively restrictive.”
He also said that the county’s penalty bond of 150 percent of the cost of removal should the windmills be abandoned was excessive. He said there was value in abandoned ones being sold for parts and materials.
In earlier comments, Holton used a PowerPoint presentation that showed that the setbacks on a square tract would require 143 acres for one wind turbine.
Delamar, who has championed the wind industry as an economic boost for the county, said that the restrictions would likely not allow nearly as many in the county as many people thought.
He challenged the board “to find 150 properties out of 17,000 in the county” that could pass the setback rules.
Delamar repeated earlier statements about balancing the rights of those who want to lease their land to wind companies and their neighbors.
He said that because of the lay of the land in the rural county, much of the land was “useless” except for planting timber, which is harvested about every 30 years. He noted that landowners can’t start new farmland and that much of it is also government-protected wetlands.