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Regulate wind power, Mollohan says

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, D-W.Va., told a House committee Tuesday about the dangers wind turbines in West Virginia and elsewhere pose to birds and bats.

“In the past, West Virginia’s natural resources were exploited without regard to the long-term environmental consequences, and I think it’s imperative that this not be allowed to happen again,” Mollohan told the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans during Tuesday’s hearing, the first congressional hearing on the impact of huge wind turbines on wildlife.

Mollohan also spoke about the size of the wind projects on West Virginia’s mountain ridges.

“The Mountaineer project, which is in my district, consists of 44 turbines, each of which is about 340-feet high – in other words, 50 feet higher than the tip of the Capitol dome,” he said. “Those turbines are spread out over 4,000 acres of mountain ridges.”

The Mountaineer Project, on Backbone Mountain in Tucker County, is the only wind-turbine project operating in the state.

Three other projects, which are still being challenged, have received certificates “of convenience and necessity” from the West Virginia Public Service Commission: a U.S. WindForce/Mount Storm project in Grant County; a NedPower/Shell Wind Energy project, also in Grant County; and an Invenergy project in Greenbrier County.

U.S. WindForce recently applied for a certificate to operate a facility in Pendleton County.

Mollohan criticized the PSC for making minimal efforts to regulate new wind projects. If all of the proposed projects are built, the number of wind turbines in West Virginia could expand from 44 to 584, he said..

West Virginia’s first wind-turbine project has already killed thousands of bats, Mollohan said.

“Wind turbines have a devastating impact on wildlife,” he said. “It is especially troubling that the reasons for this impact are largely unknown, and so real solutions to these problems simply are not in sight.”

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for wind developers in West Virginia, said, “We have worked hard to work with environmentalists, regulators and communities to understand the bat issue and work toward a solution that will allow bats and wind turbines to co-exist.

“In today’s energy situation, we need wind turbines and other sources of fuel.” He said wind turbines provide revenue and economic development.

“We will continue to work to promote clean energy. We will take steps to make sure it is not only good for the community and its tax base, but that it will protect wildlife,” he said.

Edward R. Arnett, a scientist with Bat Conservation International in Houston, testified that his group “recognizes threats to our environment from climate change and supports the development of clean, renewable energy sources.

“Cumulative impacts of wind energy development could become severe if facilities continue to operate without careful planning to minimize harm to birds and bats, both of which are ecologically essential.”

Arnett urged the subcommittee to fund more research.

Mollohan concluded, “If developers are allowed to carry out their plans to build thousands of turbines on Appalachian mountain ridges, what are the specific impacts on wildlife and on our ecosystem?

“It is simply a matter of sound public policy that we know the answer to this question,” he said.

By Paul J. Nyden
Staff writer


2 May 2007