What many feared would happen, has happened.
As we predicted many times on these pages, once Highland County’s board of supervisors opened the Pandora’s box on industrial wind energy development, residents here were bound to lose control over how their properties would be used.
Two Virginia localities, Arlington County and the City of Charlottesville, have endorsed the proposal by Highland New Wind Development LLC to construct a 39-megawatt commercial wind utility on the 4,000-foot Allegheny Mountain crest. As the company awaits final approval from the State Corporation Commission, it can rest a little easier, knowing two of the most powerful, politically influential areas of Virginia support its efforts to built the state’s first renewable energy facility generated by high winds. Officials from Arlington and Charlottesville have told the SCC they want to buy HNWD’s electricity. More are sure to follow, and as they do, it will be these larger, wealthier areas that dictate what happens in the Highlands.
Why? Because the big cities are already facing serious issues with pollution, harmful emissions, poor air and water quality. And if they do not curb the damage in their own back yards, they stand to lose federal transportation dollars they desperately need to accommodate their needs in the face of nearly uncontrollable urban sprawl. Buying “green energy” affords them opportunities to show the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and their own voters, that they can reduce their footprint. This is true in other industrialized areas of the state – Tidewater, Norfolk and Hampton Roads; all of Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. region; southwestern coal country. We will not be surprised if all these localities express their eagerness to purchase wind-generated electricity from the companies prepared to construct turbines across Virginia mountains.
Bath and Highland counties have not invited polluting industries into their rural farmland, but much of the rest of Virginia has done the opposite, competing to attract developers of all ilk without enough oversight, assessment, and protection to assure those industries will be responsible stewards of the land, water, air and environment. And now that they’ve soiled their nests, they’d like residents here to sacrifice their own to help them fix the problem. As a Charlottesville city councilman told The Recorder this week, “We’re a big commonwealth, and each of us has responsibility to the rest of us.”
It’s pretty tough for the few people in the least populated area of Virginia to argue with such remarks, especially when they are uttered by those struggling to solve the kinds of problems we thank God we do not have. But the state has a greater responsibility – to preserve what many here know to be one of the last areas in Virginia that has not been ruined by industrial development.
Bath and Highland counties are not duty-bound to make up for mistakes made in Richmond, Washington or Norfolk. Our residents already make sacrifices to live here, and our back yards are in great shape not because we’ve been forced to keep them clean but because our citizens have, individually and collectively, protected these mountain lands from those who would irresponsibly damage the ecologically sensitive environment we feel privileged to enjoy. We are an eclectic mix of people – some liberal, most conservative, but all independent – who enjoy a quality of life many Virginia residents would find hard to believe still exists.
If Virginia is to have wind energy sources, there are places already industrialized with the winds to support them, and those localities may invite such developers with open arms. But it’s not the case in this part of the state.
Our Highland leaders let us down, mired as they were in a sea of differing opinions about a technology too new to fully comprehend. Bath County officials might have a chance to avoid ridge line industrialization, though with this kind of statewide push, it could be equally hard to avoid no matter how many land use regulations are put in place. But Virginia officials need to know the bulk of Highland and Bath citizens stand strongly opposed to littering our landscape with these 400-foot monstrosities. Hundreds of residents and landowners continue to demand a chance to explain exactly what’s at stake here.
As usual, the officials interviewed this week have not enjoyed time in Highland County. They have not spent any time wandering the mountain tops full of wildlife, watching our bald and golden eagles soar in clear, blue skies. Nor have they observed the astounding night stars in one of the darkest places in the nation not yet ruined with light pollution. Folks in larger areas of Virginia simply do not understand what they ask of us.
Those who have long loved the rural, mountain landscape in Virginia’s upper west border, whether as residents or visitors, know full well that allowing these ridges to be peppered with turbines reaching 400 feet above the highest elevations would be a black eye for the entire state.
Yes, each of us has a responsibility to the rest of us. It’s something those of us in the Highlands understand better than most. And it’s the responsibility of all Virginians to protect one of the state’s best assets. If we fail to do that, Virginia loses its best back yard.
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