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Polls Show Western North Carolinians Want More Wind Power.

According to a recent survey of Western North Carolina Counties, 84% of citizens want to receive more electricity from wind power. This research follows almost a year of regulatory indecision regarding wind energy in Western North Carolina (WNC). The indecision stems from a legislative attempt to create a statewide permitting process for the development of wind farms in NC. Senate Bill 1068 was introduced into the 2009 Session the of the North Carolina General Assembly. In it ‘s original form Senate Bill 1068 would have created a statewide permitting process for the construction of wind farms in North Carolina.

Largely accepted as a comprehensive and robust piece of legislation, this bill underwent significant changes in committee on its way to the Senate floor. After much debate, and intense political pressure from WNC Democratic LINK Senators Martin Nesbit, John Snow and Joe Sam Queen the augmented bill passed through the Senate in the final days of the 2009 session. As currently written the bill functions as a de facto ban on commercial and community scale wind turbines on windy North Carolina ridges. The bill accomplishes this by clarifying the Mountain Ridge Protection Act placing a restrictive height requirement on turbines that can be placed on North Carolina mountain ridges.

Recent results of a public opinion research that show that such restrictions in the wind-permitting bill do not represent the voting base. In a telephone survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, 85% of respondents from a random sample of the 24 counties of western North Carolina expressed a desire to see more wind energy in NC. This response was even higher than solar and hydro-power, and is higher than the responses for coal, natural gas, and nuclear combined.

When asked specifically about constructing large wind turbines on mountain ridge land, 70% of respondents felt that the practice should either be encouraged or allowed in appropriate circumstances. The original framework of Senate Bill 1068 necessitates a multitude of studies to allow a proposed wind turbine or turbines to receive a permit for construction, meaning that only appropriate sites would be selected. When told about the fact that the bill would limit the development of large wind turbines, 61% of respondents felt that the legislation was either too restrictive or outright inappropriate.

In a second survey for Watauga County, the location of the only large wind turbine and the location of the first megawatt-scale wind turbine in NC, responses were equally positive. 87% of residents have either a strongly positive or positive view of wind turbines, and 87% of respondents support the current large wind turbine in Boone. Only 3% of respondents did not support the construction of the Northwind 100 (a 135 ft. tall community scale turbine). The residents of Watauga County, 99% of which responded that they live within 15 miles of Boone, were given the chance to respond to an open-ended question on wind energy. When asked the most important issues they see regarding the technology, the majority of respondents answered that they wanted to see more wind turbines constructed like the Northwind 100 in Boone, citing reasons such as green job creation, improving the local tax base, decreasing air pollution, and utilizing local resources for power production.

Overall, the people of WNC support wind energy and want to see more development of the wind industry in their mountains, so long as the turbines are appropriately sited. The House of Representatives, which will begin work on the wind permitting bill as early as mid-May, should pay close attention to the voices of the people of western North Carolina. These polls show that citizens are in support of wind power and realize that the great potential contained on the windy ridge land of the southern Appalachians cannot be lost to a bad permitting bill.

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