If past experience is suggestive of the future, it’s very likely the State Corporation Commission will support Highland New Wind Development’s proposal to open Highland County up to the business and consequences of industrial wind power. SCC commissioners will be acting under the cover of the recommendation of their hearing officer based on the narrowest examination of the law and the facts.
It would be premature, however, to lose hope that justice will not yet prevail. Commissioners are acutely aware of the importance of this decision as the first wind utility proposed in Virginia. They must also be aware that local governments in other mountainous areas of the state where wind plants have been proposed are balking at the prospect. They will not want to be seen as acting like a rubber stamp. And if they do, there remains the Virginia Supreme Court as a hedge against what will prove a terrible mistake in years to come. Those justices will be hard pressed to ignore the manner in which Highland’s supervisors circumvented the county’s planning process in order to impose their will over the objections of the great majority of their constituents.
In the meantime, it is not too soon to turn our attention to ways to minimize the damage the wind industry could wreak here and, with county elections just eight months away, begin the process of identifying and supporting candidates who understand what is at stake and are willing to listen to the majority position.
HNWD is the first applicant to try to exploit Highland. It won’t be the last. Nor will those lining up to take advantage of our sparse political clout be limited to the wind industry. In coming years, Highland’s elected and appointed leadership will come under enormous pressure from powerful outside interests to convert what is of value to us into what is of value to them. On the basis of our current supervisors’ position, they will assume our unique natural and historical heritage is for sale.
As we face those challenges, it will be vitally important the majority coalition of opponents of inappropriate development that has coalesced in the course of the wind fight stays together and prospers. Without the efforts of these people from across the county’s demographic spectrum, the blades of the wind turbines would already be spinning on Allegheny Mountain. This is not a coalition of wealthy outsiders, as the wind people like to say. It represents the very heart of the county.
We need to fully understand that whatever comes down the road over the next few months will be only the opening salvo of a battle that will continue for as long as there is anything left of value here to fight for.
8 March 2007
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