By Eric Eyre
The West Virginia Public Service Commission gave the go-ahead Monday night for a Chicago developer to build 124 electricity-generating wind turbines in Greenbrier County.
The Beech Ridge Energy Wind Farm stands to become one of the largest wind-turbine projects east of the Mississippi River. It would be three times as big as West Virginia’s only existing wind farm in Tucker County.
“The project is good for Greenbrier County, the state and the country,” said Dave Groberg, the project’s director. “We need clean energy. We need renewable energy from domestic sources.”
Beech Ridge plans to start construction this April, and the turbines could begin generating electricity as early as December 2007.
The PSC’s approval came with 29 stipulations – some before construction starts, and others after the turbines are built.
Among them: Beech Ridge and its contractors must use noise buffers on equipment and trucks. The company must conduct studies on the project’s impact on bats and birds for the first three years the wind turbines are up and running. Beech Ridge also must limit lighting at the site and comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.
“It looks like they are all reasonable conditions,” Groberg said.
Critics of the $300 million project say the wind turbines will spoil mountain views, hurt tourism and lower property values in Greenbrier County. They also predict the turbines will make an excessive amount of noise, and kill bats and birds.
Wind project opponents declined to comment Monday night, saying they needed time to review the PSC’s 92-page ruling. They are expected to ask the PSC’s three-member board to reconsider its decision. A lawsuit to block the project is also likely.
“We are conferring with out attorney, and we’ll have a statement within 24 hours,” said Dave Buhrman, media director of an anti-wind-project group in Greenbrier County called Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy. “We don’t want to put our foot in our mouth until we understand what the ruling is.”
The state agency received thousands of letters – mostly against the project – during the past year. Hundreds of Greenbrier residents spoke against the wind turbines during hearings last spring in Lewisburg.
Project opponents also included The Greenbrier resort, Lewisburg’s mayor and state legislators who represent Greenbrier County.
Supporters of the wind project included the Sierra Club’s West Virginia chapter, an anti-mountaintop removal organization and the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, a union group.
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“This decision shows that the broad coalition of support for this project really has had an impact,” said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for mid-Atlantic region wind developers, including Beech Ridge. “The West Virginia PSC has come down in favor of a project that will have a positive impact on the local community, the environment and the economy.”
The Beech Ridge Wind Farm would stretch across 500 acres in northwestern Greenbrier County.
Beech Ridge, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Invenergy, plans to lease most of the land from Connecticut-based MeadWestvaco and build the turbines on mountain ridges nine miles northeast of Rupert Forest. The 186-megawatt project would produce enough electricity for about 50,000 homes.
The wind-turbine towers would be about 260 feet tall, each with three blades about 130 feet long. Beech Ridge officials said the wind project would provide about 20 full-time jobs, paying about $35,000 each. The company predicted about 200 temporary construction jobs would be created during the eight months it will take to build the turbines.
The project will pump about $400,000 in tax revenue each year into Greenbrier County, making Invenergy the fifth-highest property taxpayer in the county, Groberg said. The PSC is requiring Beech Ridge to sign an agreement with Greenbrier County, guaranteeing the payment.
Invenergy operates a wind-power project in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The company also is building wind farms in Colorado, Idaho and Montana.
To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.
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