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Ridge-top wind generates debate  

While major studies recently have touted wind power in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic offshore areas, there is large potential in Appalachia.

In the mountainous Northeast and mid-Atlantic region, including the Appalachians, Catskills, Adirondacks, Alleghenies, Blue Ridges and Great Smokies, wind patterns show conditions conducive to wind projects.

Parts of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New York show average wind resources ranked in classes four, five and six out of seven.

Average wind speeds of 12.5 to 15.7 mph are enough to power both large- and small-scale wind turbines, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The modern utility-scale wind turbines typically require class four winds or stronger, while some smaller turbines, below 100 kilowatt capacity, can perform economically in areas with class two or three wind resources.

States with renewable portfolio standards have generated growth in the renewable energy sector, but many of the Appalachian states don’t have one. Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New York all have some fairly progressive goals, but West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee don’t have a state RPS and wind projects often ignite battles.

“It’s a very active and energetic place for wind development because the load centers are reasonably close and the transmission grid is close which makes for a good project,” said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for Mid-Atlantic wind developers. “But there are folks who go from project to project trying to block them because they don’t want them built even in the face of calls for more renewable energy.” Wind farms in these areas generate revenue and help land owners at the same time of helping provide a cleaner environment, Maisano said, but there’s a more significant challenge in Appalachia than in places like Texas or Minnesota.

“There’s a core group of folks who think they own the mountain,” Maisano said. “There won’t be wind turbines on every ridge top because you need more than good wind but where we can put them, we ought to.” If Appalachian environmentalists have their way, permits for many mountaintop removal mines would be much more difficult to get following recent court rulings regarding the permitting process. If that land is freed up, wind power could be a potential alternative to coal.

The areas are already flat land but it’s up to the mining companies, said Margaret Janes, senior policy analyst at the Appalachian Center for Economy and Environment.

“They are supposed to be putting sites to equal or better use than what was there before,” she said. Lowering of peaks by the blasts may have affected the wind power potential, Janes said, but converting what has essentially become barren wasteland where the coal has already been mined to a wind farm that would generate clean electricity is something that should be looked at, she said.

While wind is much more responsible and sustainable, said Joe Lovett, executive director of ACEE, there is a large supply of coal that companies will use other methods to obtain, regardless of the rulings on permitting. In spite of the low cost of coal in the area, wind projects are starting to gain momentum, he said, in particular there’s a large wind project proposed on Mount Storm near the Dominion Power facility. There’s also a project in the works in Greenbrier, W.Va., and a project in operation in Tucker County.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, coal ridges in parts of Pennsylvania have the largest potential in the region, second only to New York in the amount of projected wind energy. There’s a small, nine-turbine project in Bear Creek and the larger Bald Mountain project. Gamesa, a Spain-based company is building in the state and recently Bedford County became a high activity center but there’s also a lot of opposition, Maisano said.

In Tennessee, there’s the Oliver Springs Wind Farm. In Maryland there are four projects, all in various stages of delays. There’s also joint project between Clipper and Constellation that’s awaiting ruling from the State Supreme Court. In Highland County, Va., there’s a project that is likely to get approval soon; it’s a 19-turbine project that will likely be the first renewable project in the state.

In North Carolina, a renewables-efficiency standard was proposed and to meet the goal offshore wind and wind on ridge lands will be needed. Currently there’s a battle in Raleigh over whether or not the state’s ridge law, which protects environmentally sensitive areas in the mountains, should exempt wind turbines. Attorney General Roy Cooper has stated his opposition to the wind turbines.

The Western North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiative at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., helps residents in the ridge regions develop small scale wind projects, said Brent Summerville, project manager. There’s also a large scale wind farm proposed in Ashe County, a private land owner has applied wit the North Carolina Utilities Commission for permits.

“The interest is there, if there’s the money and the resources, but people are slowly starting to get involved,” Summerville said. Local opposition and NCUC roadblocks have put delays on wind projects in Patrick, N.C. and other northwestern parts of the state but as you move up, there’s more support, Maisano said.

By Kristyn Ecochard


27 March 2007

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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