Last week I attended the Virginia Sustainable Future Summit in Richmond, which included several sessions that focused on renewable energy. My notes from the conference might be of interest to those who value the scenic and biological heritage of Highland.
The first session, titled “The Green Power Market,” consisted of two speakers, Alden Hathaway and Wayne Hutters. Mitch King, president of Old Mill Power Co. and spokesperson for the Virginia Renewable Energy Association, was the moderator.
Hathaway has spoken in Monterey on behalf of Highland New Wind Development on several occasions. He is director of EcoPower Programs, a division of Environmental Resources Trust. In his statement he said that ERT does not certify over 30 MW of hydro power because hydro dams kill fish and they don’t want to certify anything that kills fish or creates other environmental hazards.
Wayne Hutters works for Pepco and his job is managing green portfolios selling electricity in states with renewable portfolio standards. Hutters divided energy sources into categories of more controversial or less controversial and he put commercial wind energy into the less controversial category, saying “people like wind energy.” By this time I was scratching my head wondering how he came up with that conclusion, since impacted people in Europe and the U.S. are mounting strong opposition to commercial wind, and those charged with bird and bat conservation are alarmed by documented high bat mortality at wind sites in the east and by the lack of research concerning impacts to migrating birds.
Before the sessions began the audience was told this was a place for dialog and they should plan to take part. When I tried to ask a question during the Q&A session I had a startling experience.
I wanted to know how Alden Hathaway justified giving certification to eastern commercial wind installations that kill thousands of bats when his company does not certify larger hydro dam developers because of impacts to fish. To establish the severity of bat kills, I began to read a sentence from a memo that grew out of the 2004 research at Mountaineer and Meyersdale (wind utilities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania).
The quote by Merlin Tuttle, president of Bat Conservation International and co-leader of the study, is: “Clearly, further construction of wind farms on wooded ridge tops, prior to finding solutions to prevent or minimize bat kills, poses potentially devastating cumulative threats to bats and to ecosystems that rely on them.”
I was halfway into the sentence when moderator King interrupted me and said that he would not allow me to continue. He snapped, “Is that a question?” I replied that while the quote was not a question, it was pertinent for the audience’s understanding of the question that was to follow. That rationale did not fly with King, who did not allow me to finish the quote and who was, presumably, intent that the audience not hear the information contained in the quote.
In the next session titled “Innovative and Market-ready Renewable Energy Technologies,” Phil Dougherty spoke on behalf of Wind Powering America. He said they had spent $350,000 pushing wind energy in Virginia. He showed a slide of brochures about wind energy and said, “This is some of the propaganda we produced over the years.” Then he said, “You definitely don’t put them (wind turbines( in front of someone’s house who is rich because they’ll take you to court.”
What are we in Highland to make of these statements and actions? Clearly, these men have a stake in seeing turbines on Highland’s ridges. Rather than responsibly considering the bird and bat impacts in any sort of serious way, they go to great lengths to stifle or belittle credible research recommending that wind turbines be put on hold until bat mortality can be understood and mitigated and until bird impacts can be studied.
The destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina is a stunning example of why we must protect the natural systems that protect us. Simply stated, people developed the wetlands and floodplains against the advice of scientists and planners. When Katrina came along, these natural land systems were not available to protect them.
Noted scientists who have studied the impacts of commercial turbines in the East are advising us not to develop eastern ridges with wind turbines at this time because of almost certain catastrophic losses to bat species. Specialists are asking for time to study the impacts to migrating bird species. Existing facilities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania must be made available for monitoring and for solutions before more industrial turbines are erected in our region. Failure to heed this advice could lead to insidious destruction that occurs over years, as natural insect controls are eliminated and farmers and foresters suffer the effects of the losses of species essential to the balance of nature and human economies.
The harmful effects of burning fossil fuels is well-established, but that should not be a green light for developing a form of energy that, at this point in time, would most certainly result in major ecosystem disruption. There are many alternatives, including photovoltaic solar, biofuels, mandating better gas mileage for vehicles, improved building standards, and most importantly, a national policy that discourages energy waste and encourages energy conservation.
The repeated insistence by those pushing wind energy that this is just a “not in my back yard” issue for Highlanders, points to a lack of respect for those who want to preserve the ecological health of our region. The wind people have funding and connections that add up to a powerful foe. Highlanders who oppose the turbines have the weight of credible research and the passion for preservation as assets that can serve them well in their efforts to prevent the losses that wind turbines would bring to the county and the region.
If those associated with the wind industry reach a point of insisting on peer reviewed research, of paying attention to the research even when it calls for caution, of cutting out the propaganda, and of open respectful dialog with concerned citizens, it would go a long way toward solving the weighty problems of how to responsibly produce and use energy in our country.
Editor’s note: Lucile Miller is a Highland County landowner and one of several bringing suit against county leaders for their decisions surrounding Highland New Wind Development, LLC, which has received a permit to construct a 38-megawatt industrial wind plant here on Allegheny Mountain.