Planners endorse residential wind turbine, recommend allowing 60-foot pole

Despite concerns about noise and visibility from neighbors, the Botetourt Planning Commission members offered their encouragement to Mark Hanson who is seeking a special exceptions permit (SEP) so he can put a small wind turbine on a 60-foot pole at his home on Vista Lane west of Fincastle.

Hanson and his wife Teresa already have a homemade windmill on their house, but Hanson told the planners he got a good deal on the commercial windmill he wants to erect for backup power and as a demonstration project for members of the Renewable Energy and Electrical Vehicle Association (REEVA), a do-it-yourself club where members go to members’ houses and help with solar, wind and electric vehicles.

The Hansons need an SEP in order to put up any structure over 40 feet tall, including the single 60-foot pole that will hold the 8.2-foot diameter, three-blade windmill. The pole will be held up by guy-wires, and he wants to place a UHF television antennae on the pole, too.

After hearing Hanson’s presentation and concerns from neighbors, the planners voted 5-0 to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the SEP when that board holds a public hearing on the request later this month.

The planners did attached two recommended conditions—that the windmill be built in conformity to the plan Hanson submitted to the planners and that the existing wind turbine be taken down. That windmill is on the deck of his home, and according to Hanson, makes more noise than the new windmill he hopes to erect.

Fincastle District Planner John Griffin noted this is the first request for an SEP to install a windmill on a pole taller than the 40 feet allowed by right in an agriculture zoned district.

“I feel like (Hanson) likes to play with it more than use it or work with it,” Griffin said, “and that’s a good thing. We need people like that.”

The other planners thought the possible noise and view of the windmill were mitigated by removing the existing windmill for what is supposed to be a quieter unit, and the fact that power poles and light poles are already visible in the area based on pictures presented to the planners by a group of neighbors.

Hanson said his property is surrounded by 50 to 60-foot-tall pines that will help block the view of the windmill, although the property is on a hillside. He said the windmill will be only about 15 feet above his current windmill because of the slope and where he’ll put the windmill.

Loren Bruffey spoke for himself and a dozen other neighbors. He told the planners their main concern was the noise the windmill would create.

While Hanson likened the 54-57 decible noise from the windmill at top speed in a 30 mph wind to the hum of a refrigerator, Bruffey said it would be like a “loud conversation.”

He said because of the way the land lays, even now neighbors can hear loud conversations.

He was also concerned the windmill would be come an “attractive nuisance” that might attract vandals who would shoot at the windmill blades.

He also questioned the Hansons’ need for the electricity the windmill will generate. It will actually be used to power batteries that will serve as backup power.

Bruffey said the Hansons already produce more power than they can use, and he said the windmill “definitely will be seen.”

Two persons spoke in favor of allowing the Hansons to be granted the SEP.

Adam Cohen, vice president of the REEVA, and a resident of Boones Mill in Franklin County, said what the Hansons are doing is akin to returning to the area’s roots in the earlier part of the last century before rural electrification.

He said a lot of farmers used windmills for electricity and to get water.

He suggested the community needs to decide whether to act now or react later to the need for alternative energy sources.

The planners asked several questions about the noise and the expected difference between the homemade windmill Hanson has now and the one he wants to erect.

According to the SEP application, the windmill will generate up to 1,000 watts and 24V low voltage that will charge batteries for low voltage lighting in case the power goes out.

Hanson said in a letter to the zoning office that the windmill is recommended by the James Madison University wind department.

The supervisors are scheduled to hold a public hearing on the planners’ recommendation at that board’s March 23 meeting at 6 p.m. at Greenfield Education and Training Center.

The supervisors also will resume their hearing to discuss a request for an SEP to put a 195-foot cellular tower on a parcel west of Fincastle on Mary Alice Road that belonged to the late Donald L. Meredith.

The supervisors postponed a decision on the request by Cingular Wireless/AT&T Wireless, which want to lease the site until a geological water study could be done at the site.

Neighbors worried that the tower will have a negative effect on a spring that is used by residents of the area where the tower is to be built.

The planners, when they recommended 4-1 approving the SEP in December, asked for the geological study. It was not available by the time the supervisors met that month.

Cingular Wireless/AT&T Wireless said a tower at this site is an effort to close a “hole” in its cellular service area between Fincastle and Eagle Rock.

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