Highland New Wind Development says not only will its facility not have an overly negative impact to wildlife, but that in fact it will contribute to reducing fossil fuel use in Virginia.
It’s post-hearing brief notes that by law, there are only a few permits it needs:
“¢ The Highland County conditional use permit, which was approved by county supervisors July 14, 2005.
“¢ A building permit, which will be submitted this year.
“¢ A state permit, under consideration by the State Corporation Commission now.
“¢ A joint permit application filed with Virginia Marine Resources Commission, Army Corp of Engineers and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to tunnel under Laurel Fork and two of its tributaries to bury the electric line connecting the Tamarack Ridge turbines to the substation serving the project; that permit was approved last June.
“¢ A Virginia Department of Transportation highway access permit, which has preliminary approval.
“¢ Approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for lighting on the turbines, which will be applied for when a turbine manufacturer is selected and sites are specifically identified.
“¢ A PJM Interconnection Agreement with Allegheny Power, for which studies have been completed.
HNWD notes Virginia provides a streamlined review of electric generation facilities of this size (39 megawatts) which narrows the application review process to only those issues not previously addressed by other authorities. Therefore, the developer says, there are only a few issues left for the SCC to consider in this case, the most significant of which is the potential impact on birds and bats.
“The impact on those populations, however, is unlikely to be significant and (HNWD) will institute a post-construction monitoring program to confirm these minimal effects, and provide data for broader study of the interaction between wind turbines and those populations in the region,” the company said.
“While reviewing the debate on how to minimize the impact to birds and bats, two important concepts must be kept in mind. First, there will be a limited impact on birds and bats, but from a macro-environmental perspective, this project is good for the environment – therefore it is a positive for wildlife “¦ Second, the impact of unnecessary and expensive study requirements will chill any entrepreneurial activity in the Virginia energy market, guarantee the failure of the Virginia Energy Choice Program and cripple the Virginia Energy Plan. The world, the nation, Virginia and even Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries support wind energy. Despite its stated support for wind energy, however, VDGIF wants to impose the most comprehensive and expensive pre- and post-construction protocols in the nation.”
HNWD argues the state’s demand for electricity is growing, and points to Sen. Frank Wagner’s testimony that this project is an important addition “as a first step toward a renewable clean source of energy.” Wagner was the chief sponsor of the Virginia Energy Plan, which passed the General Assembly last year.
HNWD says it, and the wind energy industry, are “working to minimize the comparatively minor impact of wind turbines on wildlife generally, and bats in particular. Human beings are a significant part of the environment and their well-being should be protected as well. Overall, the environmental benefits, primarily clean air and clean water, of the project far exceed the potential environmental costs associated with the minimal risk to the bat population or the viewshed concerns of a relatively few individuals.”
The company points out it has agreed to conditions meant to minimize impacts placed upon it by Highland supervisors.
The SCC, it says, “should reject any additional, over-zealous conditions that would burden the project with substantial academic studies and their associated costs. Of all the available methods for producing electricity, a wind farm is by far the most environmentally friendly “¦ This first-of-its-kind wind farm in Virginia should be approved and the conditions imposed in the (state permit) should be reasonable so as not to prevent its realization or chill the development of other renewable energy projects and other small projects, especially locally owned projects and projects developed with no cost to the commonwealth, that may lead to energy supply competition in this commonwealth.”
HNWD says its project “should not serve as a testing ground for all wind farms planned for subsequent siting and construction in Virginia or the region. If every concern of every agency is piled on the project and thereby becomes a requirement for each renewable energy project in Virginia, then the objectives of the 2006 Virginia Energy Plan will likely be frustrated and the commonwealth will not obtain the benefit of an environmentally favorable electric generation project.”
The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, HNWD said, has “overstepped its bounds by challenging the determinations already made” by Highland supervisors. HNWD’s project, it said, should not be made an “academic laboratory for a myriad of pre and post-construction studies and exercises that add little to the science of wind farms in Virginia.” It says the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s suggestion a view shed analysis be required is also asking too much.
Even though federal production tax credits have been extended, “time is still of the essence for this project,” HNWD says, noting it has already spent “considerable resources” getting the county permit, conducting studies, and defending its permit approval in court in three separate lawsuits, all of which have been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.
“More than likely, additional time and funds will be spent defending against an appeal of the commission’s decision in this matter,” HNWD notes. “There will be no return on investment in the project, which includes the cost of studies and other pre-construction expenses, until the first turbine is operational. In addition, the wind turbine market has exploded in this country and throughout the world and turbines are difficult to obtain. If this application is granted, (HNWD) intends to reserve turbines for use in the project directly thereafter by remitting nonrefundable deposits to the manufacturer. To obtain turbines for the projected 10-month construction period in 2008, the current turbine market requires that the applicant place the turbine order as soon as possible to ensure 2008 delivery.”
Issues already decided
There was testimony on several issues that have already been decided – and therefore concluded – by the Highland County Board of Supervisors, HNWD said. “There are no issues more “˜local’ than viewshed and ecotourism. The board considered each in its deliberations on the issuance of a conditional use permit “¦ Only limited environmental issues are before the Commission. None of the environmental concerns outweigh the overwhelming human benefits of wind power or the formal state policy urging the installation of wind power in the commonwealth. The board considered viewshed issues and mandated site plan provisions to mitigate visual impact of the project.”
HNWD described the project site as located “in a most remote part of Highland County that is snow- covered most of the winter and where there is very little traffic. This is not to say the project is invisible; rather the project is sited in an area where the wind resource is excellent, the project is bisected by a highway and a transmission line and the visual impact is minimal.”
Because it would be expensive and the location is remote, HNWD believes additional viewshed analysis is unnecessary.
Further, it argues no historic sites would be “impaired” by the project, including Camp Allegheny. The Camp Allegheny visual impact concerns raised by witnesses during the hearings, HNWD said, are “quite frankly, exaggerated. While the forest service recognizes Camp Allegheny as an historical site and added it to the National Registry in 1990, the project will not impact the experience of a visitor to the battle site “¦ A visitor to Camp Allegheny will have his or her back to the project when surveying the remnants of the seven-hour battle, and will most likely be entirely oblivious to the turbines spinning in the distance behind.”
HNWD pointed out global warming is now widely accepted as a problem. “One of many responses required to ameliorate the global warming environmental crisis is wind energy. Wind energy and other renewableenergy projects will help prevent the environmental crisis developing due to global warming. The benefit of participating in the response to global warming far outweighs the minimal impact to wildlife that is the focus of the Virginia wildlife regulators commenting on this project.”
HNWD says it believes it has conducted all the necessary pre-construction studies to investigate potential risks to wildlife, some of which have provided “inconclusive results because of limitations on the ability of technical data to predict reliably the ultimate issue of mortality of various species of birds, bats or animals,” it said. “Those findings, however, should not lead to the imposition of yet additional pre-construction assessment requirements that would be prohibitively costly and equally likely to result in similarly inconclusive predictions of post-construction mortality.
HNWD notes it has spent over $300,000 arguing wildlife issues and conducting studies. “Given this sizeable effort to date and the consensus among the experts that additional pre-construction studies are of dubious value, it is time to move beyond pre-construction studies, and more worthwhile to formulate a practical and effective post-construction monitoring and mitigation protocol.”
Bat studies, the company says, have been “rigorous,” and more of them wouldn’t add anything to help predict the project’s impacts. “Considering the current focus on wind energy development in the Alleghenies, including recent approval of another wind project in West Virginia, two additional proposed projects in Virginia, the U.S. Department of Energy’s goal for increasing wind power, and federal subsidies promoting wind power, we are assured of a substantial increase in wind farm proposals for the Appalachians. This likely will result in significant cumulative impacts upon local and migratory wildlife,” HNWD said.
What DEQ suggests – that this case should consider all the proposed facilities in the region – is too much for HNWD to take on, it said. It represents “an overwhelming suggestion completely devoid of any real world practicality,” the brief states. “A cumulative impact study is neither feasible nor appropriate in the context of the project. In fact, wind farms have no indirect or cumulative impacts – the air and water are unaffected, and a flying creature that avoids a wind farm located in Highland County may be no more or less likely to avoid a wind generation site up or down the East Coast. A requirement for a cumulative impact study concerning the effect of wind turbines on bird and bat populations is difficult, if not impossible, to administer, and certainly is not feasible for any one applicant or project. To complete such a study – if it could ever be completed – would require obtaining permission from all the surrounding property owners of each of the 1,025 sites at the 34 facilities to enter upon their land periodically, setting a reasonable representative sample, and factoring for environmental and other impacts in all jurisdictions in which the individual species appear. Collecting these data, tabulating it and then attempting to draw conclusions from the data would be a daunting, almost endless, task,” HNWD said.
HNWD says it’s done everything it should do, and the only remaining concern is for endangered bats. “Experts have construed the absence of reported fatalities of these species at existing wind farms throughout the country to signify a lack of risk of fatality resulting from collision with the wind turbine,” it said. “Despite the assertions to the contrary “¦ it is not necessary for (HNWD) to obtain either an incidental or ongoing take permit from the USFWS.
And because there’s nothing to determine what the mortality level might be on these species, it makes no sense to set a mortality limit for the project, HNWD said.
“The concern over the project’s risk to bats is primarily due to the supposed cumulative effect of wind turbines in the Appalachian region if the wind industry proliferates due to the demand for renewable energy, and the existing mitigation techniques and the bat deterrent devices being developed prove to be ineffective. Based on these concerns the applicant acknowledges that it may not be permitted to expand this project or develop another wind farm in Virginia if a bat mortality problem is identified in the region at a cumulative level of significance.”
HNWD has agreed to a post-construction monitoring and mitigation plan which includes reporting to DGIF, and getting its approval for the plan. It has proposed hiring an independent consultant approved by the agency for the first three years after the project is built, at a cost not to exceed $2,500 per megawatt of installed turbine capacity. After that, HNWD would agree to allow access to the utility site for monitoring.
HNWD pointed to the general benefits it believes the utility would bring to the state’s environment, but said the “measurable and greatest benefit” will be the real property tax revenue it will generate for Highland County. In addition, it cited witnesses who pointed out potential additional economic benefits to Virginia as a whole.
HNWD said the favorable impacts of its projects on air and water quality alone should justify approving its state permit. “The project represents electricity generation in Virginia without the ecological downsides of fossil fuel generation. In addition, state and national legislation looks with favor on this type of energy diversity, there is no negative impact on or risks to rate-payers, and it will generate significant income to the county in the form of property tax,” it said. “In order to achieve these beneficial results, however, it is necessary that the operational requirements not overwhelm the project. There is not an unlimited fund with which to finance the full spectrum of studies and surveys proposed by various commenters.”
What HNWD proposed “was developed with a comprehension of the financial realities of operating the turbines, and represents a good-faith effort by “¦ to match environmental concerns and financial constraints. The academic interests expressed by the state agencies and other parties are better addressed during the post-construction phase,” the company said.
By Anne Adams “¢ Staff Writer
January 25, 2007
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