Story By Jessica Farrish
The state Public Service Commission on Aug. 28 approved a controversial, $300 million plan by a Chicago company to place 124 wind turbines in north-central Greenbrier County.
The 391-foot turbines are slated to be built just north of the Interstate 64 corridor in the areas of Big Ridge, Nunly Mountain, Old Field, Beech Ridge, Ellis Knob, Rockcamp Ridge, Shellcamp Ridge and parts of Cold Knob.
The plan by Beech Ridge Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Chicago’s Invenergy LLC, was opposed by some area residents who feared property values would decline while the amount of energy generated by the wind farm would not benefit the region.
Opponents also believed hunting and hiking in the area would be disrupted by the placement of the windmills, which are expected to generate 186 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 50,000 homes.
Dave Burhman, head of Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, a group leading opposition to the plan, has said in the past that the group may appeal an approval of the wind farm to the state Supreme Court of Appeals.
After hearing testimony, the PSC ruled that hiking, hunting and picnicking will not be substantially disrupted by the placement of the windmills and that property values will not be significantly lowered.
The PSC also ruled that 12 of the turbines may not be built unless “all property owners agree to participate in the project.”
According to PSC guidelines, all construction must take place during daylight hours; the siting certificate will become invalid if construction doesn’t begin with five years; construction must comply with the federal Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; post-construction bat and bird kill studies must be performed.
Invenergy will receive tax credits under an energy bill passed last year and supported by President Bush.
Opponents of the Greenbrier project said the farm will not be economically viable without the tax credits.
They stated concerns that the company may abandon the project if the tax credits expire.
In an answer to their concerns, the PSC required Invenergy to post a decommission bond to cover 25 percent of the removal costs in case the project is abandoned.
Proponents of the plan say that wind – a clean and renewable alternative to rising fossil fuel prices – may help stabilize electricity prices.
They also believe the wind farm and others like it in the state help economic development in regions that are mountainous and underdeveloped.
According to Patrick Mann, coordinator of the West Virginia Wind Energy Working Group, wind resources are generated primarily in Preston, Tucker, Grant, Randolph, Pendleton, Pocohantas and Greenbrier counties.
Bush is a supporter of the development of wind power, which now accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation’s electrical power. But Bush recently said the amount could rise to 20 percent if the energy industry continues to use wind energy sites.
Once erected, the Greenbrier farm will be the second large wind farm in West Virginia.
Mountaineer Wind Energy has 44 turbines in Tucker and Preston counties.
Four additional projects, which could increase the state’s wind infrastructure 10 times during the next few years to more than 450 turbines, currently are nearing construction in the state, and the project queue for electric grid coordinator PJM Interconnection lists six developer inquiries into connecting another 570-MW wind generation capacity in West Virginia.
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