Your online editorial entitled “Rahall and Mollohan Anti-Wind Energy Stance a Lot of Hot Air” [June 8, 2007 http://www.huntingtonnews.net/editor/070608-ed.html] could not be more ill-informed or wrong-headed.
Your editorial claims that in raising environmental concerns about wind-energy projects, I am motivated solely by a desire to protect “Big Coal.” Let me remind you that the environmental concerns I have been raising are also being raised by thousands of West Virginians across our state, including those citizens who have been opposing construction of the 200-turbine NedPower Mount Storm project in Grant County, the 124-turbine “Beech Ridge” project in Greenbrier County, and the 50-turbine “Liberty Gap” project in Pendleton County. Among those who have been opposing these projects – which would spread 400-foot high industrial turbines across our beautiful mountain ridges – are some of the most prominent environmental advocates in our State. Are you saying that these citizens, too, are nothing more than stalking horses for, or dupes of, “Big Coal”?
Your editorial also attempts to denigrate the environmental concerns that we have been raising by claiming that they concern nothing more than “birds and bats.” Certainly the impacts of these massive industrial projects on wildlife are a major concern, but I have made it clear that at least of equal concern is the visual impacts that these projects would have our mountain ridges. I strongly believe that the mountains and natural beauty of our state are in themselves precious resources, and I have been deeply concerned that industrial wind-energy projects are being approved in our state without regard to the cumulative, long-term visual impact that these projects will have. Let me remind you too that this isn’t simply a matter of aesthetics – rather, our tourism and recreation industries and property values in many areas are substantially based the striking beauty of our mountains.
Regarding the impacts of wind turbines on birds and bats, your editorial improperly minimizes the extent of that impact (“True, there have been some birds and bats who have been caught up in some wind turbines.”), and incorrectly states that this problem has been solved by “new technologies involving radar equipment.” Your assertions on these points will certainly come as a surprise to, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which stated one year ago that the estimates of bat mortality at the Mountaineer project in Tucker County “are among the highest ever reported in the world,” and that new projects in West Virginia will likely result in the same or even greater bat mortality. Your assertions will also come as a surprise to the members of the expert committee of the National Research Council, which last month issued a report stating that large-scale development of wind energy in the Mid-Atlantic region should not take place unless and until the risks to bats are identified and understood.
Among the points regarding wind energy that were conveniently ignored in your editorial are these –
* According to the National Research Council report, despite the rapid growth in wind energy that is now occurring and is expected to continue, by 2020 wind energy will generate only between 1.2% and 4.5% of our country’s total output of electrical energy.
* The Council’s report also states that in mid-Atlantic region, the availability of wind energy is lowest when the demand for electricity is the highest – that is, the afternoon hours of summer months.
* Wind-energy projects are highly subsidized by the taxpayers through tax subsidies. The industry would not exist without the Federal Production Tax Credit, which over the years will enable the large energy companies to escape paying billions of dollars in federal income taxes. Projects in West Virginia are further subsidized through property and business tax preferences.
My basic position on wind energy in our state is that before decisions are made on building industrial turbines across our mountain ridges, we should have a good idea of what the costs as well as the benefits of those projects will be to West Virginians, both now and in the future. There can be honest disagreements about what those costs and benefits will be, and how they should be weighed. But I hope no one would disagree with the proposition that the decisions to be made on wind turbines – which raise the prospect of permanently altering the face of our State – should be made in a fully informed, considered way.
To that end, I believe the immediate need is for there to be a serious, public discussion of wind energy in this State. Members of the news media can play an important part in this discussion, but only to the extent that they report the facts, study the issues carefully, and issue thoughtful commentaries – rather than merely publishing industry talking points.
Alan B. Mollohan
14 June 2007
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