4 January 2005

The Board of Supervisors met for their 2005 organizational meeting on 4 January. Jerry Rexrode was elected Chairman and Lee Blagg Vice-Chairman. New rules of procedure for meetings were adopted. Jim Cobb of Hightown was appointed to the Planning Commission seat vacated by Jacob Hevener, who has retired. The Board set the date for their next meeting on Monday 10 January, 7:30 p.m., at which time they will announce their decision as to the proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance.

At the previous meeting Carolyn Powhowsky had submitted a letter requesting an open forum in which the general public and the supervisors could exchange information on the wind issue. Discussion of this was opened under old business. Jerry stated that he was not interested in such a forum and that all of the information gathered by the board is filed in their office in the courthouse and is open for public inspection. Lee agreed with that. Jerry further stated that new information arrives all the time, particularly noting two items that had hit just today and had not yet been evaluated. Robin stated that he was personally willing to participate in such a forum but that he did not want to make it an official function unless the other board members so desired. The board decided to take no action on Carolyn’s request. I do not know where we stand on a private meeting with Robin.

Stepping from facts to opinions, my personal take on this is that the board really must deny the zoning amendment for the following reasons:

  • The amendment was proposed by one landowner for the benefit of one project but, if passed, it would apply to all of Highland County.
  • The proposed project is totally outside of anything discussed in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
  • The Comprehensive Plan is currently under review by a large committee appointed by the board. We should allow this review to proceed before making any major changes.
  • Tax revenue to the county seems to be a pivotal matter in this issue. At this time it is unknown if local taxation will be permitted or if wind turbines will be declared exempt by the State Corporation Commission. We should wait for an SCC ruling prior to accepting a huge industrial complex that may be tax exempt.
  • Installation of wind turbines is likely to depress the value of nearby property and the possibility of such installation is already putting a hold on some new home construction, which will further reduce local tax revenue.
  • New information comes in every day, as Jerry said, and everything takes time to evaluate. If this is a good idea now it will still be a good idea next year, by which time a revised Comprehensive Plan will have been adopted and the SCC may have ruled on the taxation issue.

I have not even mentioned the overwhelming public oppostion to wind turbines in Highland County or more subjective concerns such as lights, noise, scenic views, bird and bat mortality and other wildlife impacts, tourism, military training flights, utility rates, etc. If the amendment is denied, HNWD can reapply next year, when some of these issues may have been adequately addressed.

One final word on the matter of utility rates. There has been talk in the county that local electric rates will go down due to all of the “free” electricity being delivered to the grid. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Wind-generated electricity will be sold to the utilities at a higher rate than conventionally generated electricity unless production tax credits offset the cost difference. As more wind power goes on line either electric rates will go up or federal taxes will go up to cover the credits. We all pay more in the end.

John R. Sweet, Mustoe, VA