No matter how much tax revenue the utility might add to county coffers, money cannot replace the hard-to-quantify scenic landscapes and cumulative effects of such projects in the Appalachian highlands.
It’s hard to recall the last time a room full of state bureaucrats
sounded so intelligent as they did Monday in a pre-application meeting
for Highland New Wind Development. But then, these weren’t
necessarily bureaucrats. They were, at heart, scientists – scientists
who happen to work for the state of Virginia. It was alphabet soup on
the surface (DEQ, SCC, DGIF, DHR, DCR, DMME) but there was no
doubt about the depth of knowledge behind the resumes packed with
expertise and on-the-ground experience that came to the table.
HNWD requested the meeting to find out what kinds of issues it
must address in its application for a certificate from the SCC to install
a 38-megawatt industrial wind utility here in Highland, and came away
with plenty of homework.
As the company’s attorney John Flora expressed his belief that
HNWD had pretty much gathered most of what it needed, state officials
from these agencies made it clear they’d be looking for much
more. Their shopping list included: A visual impact study, perhaps
with computer-generated viewshed simulations; precise maps showing
all potential historic or scenic sites and resources that could be
affected by the 400-foot turbines on a 4,000 foot mountain; and complete
environmental assessments of wildlife impacts.
These are the kinds of things those opposed to the project are most
concerned about. No matter how much tax revenue the utility might
add to county coffers, money cannot replace the hard-to-quantify scenic
landscapes and cumulative effects of such projects in the Appalachian
highlands. This is the place where business interests so often
butt heads with environmental interests, and in this case, it’s these
state researchers and scientists who will determine how a balance may
or may not be struck.
It was encouraging the state officials knew so much about the project.
It was clear they’d been doing some homework, too, and were taking
their jobs very seriously. They understand this could be the first of
many commercial wind plants in their state, and are keenly aware of
the precedent-setting decisions before them. It appears they want to
do this right.
The absence of turf scuffling from this first meeting was equally
striking. From the state agencies, there were no disagreements about
which department was in charge of what issue. None expressed a
desire to negotiate about inter-agency responsibilities. No one argued
about which study or review was more important. Not a single program
manager or director seemed to lean toward smoothing the way
for the project, nor did they seem likely to toss irrelevant obstacles in
its path. Not a single buck was passed.
Also interesting were the issues HNWD did not address in its power
point presentation to the group. Flora and owners Mac and Tal
McBride offered their information solely from a developer’s perspective.
They didn’t mention any opposition until it came up at the end
of the meeting. No word about the lawsuits faced by Highland County
in which the company is named. They didn’t tell them about Tom
Brody and Patti Reum’s environmental education retreat business that
would likely fold under the shadows of the spinning blades and flashing
lights. They mentioned Tucker County, W.Va.’s wind plant was
drawing tourists, but failed to mention that Highland’s chamber of
commerce director believes the project will be detrimental to tourism
here. And they also omitted the reams of research refuting nearly
every aspect of the wind energy industry’s claims.
But that’s OK. We’re optimistic now these state agencies can give
HNWD’s application an objective and thorough review and the scientists
will see spin for what it is. The state appears to have time on
its side, and the authority to request all matter of information on wind
energy. We hope they ask us. Highlanders have written the book on
this topic. Virginia’s most rural county is depending on them to seek
the best, most objective analyses they can find.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding