The Virginia Wind Energy Collaborative has consistently maintained that it’s impartial and balanced in its stated mission to explore the pros and cons of commercial wind power generation in Virginia – a stance that appears to convince industry supporters and state officials it’s the right group to consult for anything related to advancing this politically attractive industry.
But VWEC is not what it appears to be, and if the officials charged with reviewing proposals for 400-foot turbines in Virginia looked carefully under the surface, what they’d find is an advocacy group staunchly supported by those who stand to gain financially from promoting this form of “green” energy. This is a classic case of opening wide the hen house door for the fox.
Last year, VWEC closed a meeting stacked with wind developers to the public. More recently, it declined to make the nature of research used for lobbying to support its claims available for public inspection. And now, Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has chosen VWEC to design a scoring system for finding suitable wind and solar plant locations.
At last year’s meeting, VWEC had the right to exclude Highland County residents, and other members of the general public. Claiming a Freedom of Information Act section for withholding its research on wind issues, as outlined in today’s Recorder, also appears legal, and tough to challenge. But in both cases, the appearance of duck and cover actions generates more than a little skepticism from VWEC’s critics.
Highlanders have watched VWEC partners, and its executive director Dr. Jonathan Miles, testify before local and state officials on why a wind facility here deserves support. Residents were grilled under cross-examination when they presented opposing opinions about the project proposed here by a man who has made it clear he hopes to sell the power, or “electric credits,” the utility would provide.
VWEC is a loosely structured group of public and private sector interests that seems to surface at every turn in the debate, claiming only to educate Virginia residents on the benefits of wind. It’s no wonder there are folks, including environmentalists, crying foul. VWEC’s pro-wind bias makes it the wrong place to turn to for objective analysis on everything from renewable portfolio standards to assessing properties for suitable utility sites. The group is partially funded with public grant money, and therefore has no business taking sides in the discussions that revolve around this big, highly subsidized business that generates a whole lot of money for a selected few while ignoring the majority will.
In Highland, where the first Virginians who may have to come to grips with an industrial-scale wind facility reside, VWEC’s efforts carry more than a passing interest, and the group has a clear, ethical obligation not to be selectively exclusive when it continues to insist it’s a neutral, educational organization. Most who live here are strongly opposed to putting these monolithic towers on our pristine ridges. They have seen through VWEC’s stated intentions and find the group’s continued central role in the debate – statewide and at home – just too much to swallow.
The connections VWEC has with wind energy officials and lobbyists make it absolutely the wrong choice for creating utility siting guidelines There is still a chance to put that assignment where it belongs – in a working group of agency scientists and experts from the SCC, the Department of Environmental Quality, and other state departments with the background and objectivity to design a system that will take into account all sides of the argument.
VWEC says it will hold public meetings as it begins to design this scoring system. Given its track record for dismissing those opposed to industrial wind energy as NIMBYists, it’s unlikely it will take input from our residents seriously. Highlanders, to be sure, have spent enough time feeling disenfranchised in this process. The state should not allow them to be further abused by an organization that has absolutely no interest in the consequences of its actions.
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