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In the Wind  

It raises a question Virginia and the nation must face: Should the wind industry continue to enjoy generous subsidies?

What does a proposal to build wind turbines along a mountain ridge about 50 miles northwest of
Staunton have to do with Hampton Roads?

Quite a lot, actually.

It deals with a question that eastern Virginia will grapple with sooner or later: a proposal to build an industrial-scale
complex of wind turbines off the state’s Atlantic coast. It reveals a gap in the state’s regulatory apparatus: Virginia
doesn’t have any particular requirements for wind farms, including what must be done to assess their environmental
impact. It will need guidelines to pick its way through this complex territory and sort out the claims of the wind-farm
industry.

It deals with issues that are relevant everywhere in America: how to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of
energy. And how to mitigate the damage that our profligate consumption of energy derived from fossil fuels is doing to
the environment.

It raises a question Virginia and the nation must face: Should the wind industry continue to enjoy generous subsidies?
While wind energy is not polluting or imported, it’s not inexpensive or efficient, either. The economics work because
the industry is heavily subsidized, leading to controversy about whether taxpayer subsidies would be better spent
cleaning up dirty coal-burning plants than lining the income statements of operators of inefficient wind farms. Some
advocates want Virginia to require utilities selling power in the state to buy a certain portion from renewable sources,thereby guaranteeing – and subsidizing – a market for expensive wind energy. Would Virginia be better off to focus on
cleaning up more efficient, cheaper energy sources?

The battle that will climax at the Highland County Board of Superiors meeting Thursday night illustrates how complex
and sometimes confounding can be the reality behind conventional wisdom about alternative sources of energy that we
like to think of as green, clean and homegrown.

Think those local disputes over putting cell-phone towers above the tree lines of suburbs get hot? That’s nothing
compared to the fight over building a row of 400-foot-high wind turbines – massive propellers – above the mountain
skyline of a pristine valley.

A landowner (who lives outside the county) wants to string the turbines along a spine of the Appalachians. Sometimes
called Virginia’s Switzerland, this part of the state earned its name for its beauty and a unique habitat that shelters
wildlife found only at cooler, higher elevations.

The wind farm’s few proponents generally support it because they back the rights of property owners or look forward to
the tax break they’ll get when the wind farm starts paying taxes. Opponents, and they include most county residents,
zero in on all the reasons this is the wrong idea in the wrong place.

While the wind has potential to help a nation desperate for renewable, clean energy, choosing where to put the turbines
will be critical to success. Wide-open Texas makes sense. North Dakota makes sense. Beautiful, pristine Appalachian
mountain ridges do not – especially when they are migratory pathways for hawks, bald eagles and songbirds and a
habitat for bats, which are critical to forest ecosystems. Other wind farms have caused the death of massive numbers of
bats and birds.

Environmentally and aesthetically inappropriate wind-farm proposals have led to legislative attempts to better regulate
and even ban wind farms offshore and in sensitive locations. The industry has a choice: Do a better job of choosing
sites or face opponents who are picking up steam.

Highland County’s wind farm, if it goes through, will be the first in Virginia, but it won’t be the last. Decision-makers
on the coast will find themselves facing the same dilemmas as those whose windows look out over the mountains.

Editorial Staff

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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