July 8, 2005

Wind-energy commentaries off-balance

The Roanoke Times recently published several commentaries
promoting wind energy development on Virginia mountain
ridges. Two were written by Jon Miles and Mitch King,
principal partners of the Virginia Wind Energy Collaborative,
an organization that claims to promote “balanced” wind
energy development in Virginia. Several of the VWEC
partners receive state and federal funding to support their
work in furtherance of the VWEC mission.

Miles, a professor at James Madison University, is director of
the VWEC. In his June 29 commentary, he called for a
“balanced brokering of truthful and informative analysis and
opinions that examine all sides of all the issues.” This sounds
good, but he falls far short of meeting this standard when he
assigns the NIMBY label to those who are raising questions
about environmental harm. Apparently he feels there is no
need to deal with specific issues when a sweeping ad
hominem dismissal will suffice.

Miles’ only specific statement concerning harm caused by
wind turbines is the often repeated claim that impacts to bats
and birds caused by wind turbines are minimal compared to
other man-made structures such as smokestacks and cell
towers. This is simply wrong. During its first year of
operation in 2003, a 44-turbine project in West Virginia was
the scene of record-setting bird and bat kills due to collisions
with turbine blades. It was estimated that as many as 4,000
bats were killed at this facility in just one season. A large
number of bats were also killed in 2004.

Dr. Merlin Tuttle, director of Bat Conservation International,
has estimated that if all the turbines proposed within just a
70-mile radius of the West Virginia project are built, about
58,000 bats per year will be killed – with potentially
devastating cumulative threats to bats and ecosystems that
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rely on them (see

Although Florida Power and Light, the current owner of all
Appalachian wind projects, initially cooperated in research to
address the bird-and-bat-kill problem, it now has cut off
access to its sites for further mortality studies. This doesn’t
speak well for an industry that has a “green” image to
promote. It also doesn’t speak well for the VWEC partners
and the other ardent wind energy devotees who continue to
trivialize the associated environmental costs.

Besides being wrong when they assert that wind turbines’
impacts on bats and birds are minimal compared to
smokestacks and cell towers, Miles and the other proponents
of wind energy would have us ignore crucial facts: The
current crusade for development of wind energy could result
in the placement of thousands of wind turbines, up to 550 feet
tall, at eight per mile along our currently forested ridges.
Even greater densities of turbines could be located along our
coast. Cell towers and smokestacks are not and never will be
so dense and never so concentrated in bat and bird flyways.

Miles suggested that wind development should proceed in a
cautious manner in a context of informed analysis. Again, this
sounds good, but Miles ignores the fact that there is no
objective environmental review process in place for private
wind development projects, and that last year VWEC
partners, represented by Mitch King, opposed General
Assembly efforts that would have simply called for
examination of the adequacy of current review processes.
These VWEC partners also are lobbying for approval of the
proposed Highland County wind project even though there
has been no environmental review and endangered species
are known to inhabit the site.

Despite the VWEC claim of promoting “balanced” wind
development, VWEC is simply advocating wind
development, spinning information accordingly, at taxpayer
expense. True balance, which we support, would be an open
and thorough process, enabling us to benefit from the good
that wind energy can provide while not causing unnecessary
and irreparable harm to the very environment wind energy is
intended to protect.

Belinsky is a staff attorney with WildLaw’s Virginia Office in
Copper Hill.

Tammy Belinsky

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2005/07/08/388/