A state hearing examiner has recommended construction of the first utility-grade wind farm in Virginia, provided it meets conditions to minimize harm to the environment.
The recommendation announced Thursday goes to the State Corporation Commission, which will decide whether to approve construction of the 19-turbine development on Highland County ridges.
SCC hearing examiner Alexander Skirpan found that the project by Highland New Wind Development poses a risk to bats and birds, but said he believes a monitoring program by the company and a state agency following construction will help reduce the hazard.
Steps to mitigate the damage, he said, “may include limitations on operation.”
Skirpan’s 84-page report found that the project may operate under Virginia law, and said it will be a renewable energy source that is encouraged by the state’s energy plan.
Under state law, the SCC may approve electric generation projects that do not threaten the reliability of the electric system, that advance electric competition, and have positive impacts on economic development.
A number of Highland County residents oppose the project, which is proposed at a 4,400-foot elevation where the headwaters of three watersheds converge. Mountaintop neighbors of the 217-acre site near the West Virginia border fear the whirring blades on 400-foot-tall towers will kill rare and endangered birds and bats that frequent the remote area.
Opponents also contend the project won’t generate enough energy to be worth the environmental risk. The Highland turbines would produce up to 39 megawatts of electricity, enough power for 39,000 homes.
Supporters have contended that project will have environmental benefits, because it will generate power without causing air or water pollution. Highland New Wind owner Henry McBride has said he regards the wind farm as a way to preserve from development the 4,000 acres he owns in Highland County.
Parties in the case have three weeks to comment on the hearing examiner’s report, then it will be sent to the commission for a decision.
The commission’s decision won’t be the final action in the case. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments in June in a case contending that Highland County officials didn’t follow land-use regulations when they approved the turbine project.
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By Sue Lindsey
Associated Press Writer
1 March 2007
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