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Firm against study of windmills' impact on view

Va. agencies sought review; company says it backs study of the effects on birds, bats


Aug 17, 2006

The company proposing 19 windmills in Highland County says it will study the project’s effects on birds and bats but should not be required to study its effects on views.

The stances are part of a 22-page legal memo Highland New Wind Development filed with the State Corporation Commission in response to environmental concerns raised by state agencies.

Those concerns included worries the nearly 400-foot-tall windmills would kill birds and bats and mar views in mountainous Highland.

The company’s lawyer, John W. Flora of Harrisonburg, said yesterday: “This is going to be good for the environment. It’s going to be particularly good for people, because this is an electric-generating source that provides no pollution.”

Highland New Wind, run by Henry T. McBride of Harrisonburg, is proposing the windmills on two ridges about 150 miles northwest of Richmond.

The project would be Virginia’s first major wind farm. It would provide power to serve 10,000 to 15,000 homes, the company says.

State agencies listed their environmental concerns in a June 30 report to the SCC, which will approve or reject the project. Highland New Wind responded earlier this month.

The commission had no comment yesterday, but spokesman Ken Schrad said the issues may be addressed in a staff report to be filed in early October.

A hearing resembling a trial will be held Oct. 30 at the commission’s office in Richmond.

In their June report, state officials asked the company to study, before construction, how birds and bats use the Highland ridges. Flora said that is being done.

State officials also recommended that Highland New Wind monitor the project’s effects on birds and bats for at least three years after construction. That would in- clude searching for carcasses.

The company agreed to a study, but Flora said it might not go on for three years if research in Highland and elsewhere shows windmills aren’t killing many animals.

The state report also asked that Highland New Wind analyze the project’s effect on the county’s scenic views. The company said the SCC had no jurisdiction over that issue because it was being resolved at the local level.

State officials asked Highland New Wind to assess the cumulative environmental impacts of the project since, the state said, 88 windmills are already operating and more than 900 are planned for the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Highland New Wind opposed that idea, calling it “an overwhelming suggestion completely devoid of any real-world practicality.”

Contact staff writer Rex Springston at rspringston@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-6453.