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Wind industry still waiting to expand  

When the state’s first wind energy center opened for business in December 2002, there were promises of bigger and better developments on the horizon – literally.

State regulators had approved a second wind farm and were considering an application for a third – both to be built in the Mount Storm area of Grant County, just a ridgetop or two away from the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in Tucker County.

NedPower Mount Storm LLC proposed to build 166 electricity- generating wind turbines, nearly four times the size of Mountaineer, while Mount Storm Wind Force planned to build even more – 200 wind turbines – also at Mount Storm.

More than four years later, despite still more proposals from developers, the 44 giant windmills at the Mountaineer site on Backbone Mountain remain the only wind towers in West Virginia, although work on the NedPower site began last fall.

Why the delay? There are a host of reasons, but Billy Jack Gregg puts it simply: public opposition.

“Basically, the folks who live in the area where they would be built have been opposed to the projects,” said Gregg, head of the Consumer Advocate Division of the state Public Service Commission.

That’s what happened in Pendleton County two years ago, when residents learned a subsidiary of U.S. Wind Force, the same folks who want to build at Mount Storm, had been planning privately with county officials to build a 50-turbine project on Jack Mountain.

Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County forced Liberty Gap Wind Force LLC to withdraw its permit application with the PSC. More recently, it persuaded the PSC to reject another application for a 112-turbine project because the company refused to give the group’s consultant access to the site to perform environmental tests.

The PSC agreed last September to reconsider its July 24, 2006, decision and ordered Liberty Gap to allow the consultant to do geological and hydrological studies. The commission scheduled an evidentiary hearing in December, then postponed it until April after the company failed to post required legal ads in December.

In another highly publicized case, Chicago-based Invenergy LLC has successfully fought off all attempts of a group called Members of Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy to block plans for its 124-tower Beech Ridge Energy Wind Farm in northwestern Greenbrier County.

Critics there, as elsewhere, said the project would spoil mountain views, lower property values, hurt tourism and kill birds and bats. The PSC approved the $300 million project in late August 2006, but attached 29 “stipulations” to try to minimize environmental effects.

PSC commissioners rejected four appeals of that order in January, paving the way for possible construction this year. Opponents could appeal to the state Supreme Court, however, Gregg said.

The other U.S. Wind Force project, Mount Storm, faces no legal or regulatory challenges, but has yet to start construction, spokesman Frank Maisano said. However, two announcements could signal the company is getting closer.

Last March, a company called FirstEnergy said it signed a deal to buy all the power from both the Mount Storm and Liberty Gap sites for 20 years.

And just last month, Edison Mission Group and U.S. Wind Force announced joint plans to develop up to 1,000 megawatts (MW) of wind projects in the mid-Atlantic area. In the near future, the addition of Edison’s capital could move the Mount Storm and Liberty Gap projects forward.

“We’re just now going through engineering, design and other elements of the [Mount Storm] project,” Maisano said. “We hope to close on financing and start construction sometime in 2007.”

NedPower’s Mount Storm project, which has held a PSC permit since April 2003, finally entered the construction phase last year. Contractors are working at the site, even though the project faces challenges at both the PSC and the state Supreme Court.

Last fall several people, including Morgantown environmentalist Linda Cooper, filed complaints with the PSC and asked the commission to halt construction activity. Cooper alleged NedPower’s plans differed from those the PSC approved in 2003 and the company failed to complete the pre-construction conditions set by the PSC.

The PSC decided not to halt construction but, after combining all the complaint cases, held a public hearing in early December. The commissioners have not yet issued their final ruling.

Earlier last year, a Grant County circuit judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by seven county landowners, who claimed the wind turbines would be a nuisance, decrease property values, create excess noise, spoil mountain views and kill birds and bats.

Their lawyer, Richard Neely, appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, where the case is scheduled for oral arguments in April.

Meanwhile, work on the $200 million-plus project continues, said Tim O’Leary, a spokesman for Shell WindEnergy in Houston. The Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary bought NedPower in a deal announced in Oct. 2005, then brought in Dominion, the Virginia energy company, as a 50/ 50 joint venture partner in December.

With newer technology, the companies now plan to build 82 turbines, not 166, each capable of producing up to 2 MW of power.

Contractors having been building roads, working on the substation site and doing prep work on foundations for the turbines, O’Leary. The company hopes to be up and running by the end of the year.

If so, it would join the Mountaineer project as West Virginia’s second wind energy center.

By Jim Balow

(c) 2007 Sunday Gazette – Mail; Charleston, W.V.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Source: Sunday Gazette – Mail; Charleston, W.V.

Posted on: Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 00:00 CST

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This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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