The West Virginia Public Service Commission has denied a proposal to build a wind-power plant in Pendleton County, ending a year-and-a-half-long effort by developers.
In a ruling Friday, the panel said the application by Liberty Gap Wind Force LLC to locate turbines on a seven-mile stretch near Franklin failed to provide enough information.
“This was an extremely difficult decision on our part,” said PSC Chairman Jon McKinney. The commission is committed to encouraging renewable energy sources, but the Liberty Gap project’s organizers didn’t make their case, he said.
“The record in support of this project simply did not fully develop or support the various public-interest factors that the commission must consider,” McKinney said.
The plant’s backers called the denial “a huge disappointment” for Pendleton County.
“It is a real blow to the local officials, community leaders, residents and union workers that traveled to Charleston and committed themselves to this project,” said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for a coalition of wind developers in West Virginia. “It is also a huge blow to the economic development and tax revenue opportunities for Pendleton County.”
The application’s map was especially lacking, the commission’s final order says. In violation of PSC siting rules, it neglected to designate existing land uses, recreational areas or historic and archaeological sites, the commission said.
“This is not a situation where a few incidental items were overlooked in preparing the map,” the order reads. “This particular map and the process used to develop it were fundamentally flawed.”
The application failed to assess the project’s potential impact on any archeological and historical sites and said too little about the impact on viewsheds, according to the PSC order. In its initial application, Liberty Gap discussed only six viewshed angles, ignoring too many others, the order said.
The PSC also balked, it said, because Liberty Gap didn’t resolve concerns about the turbines’ noise and the possibility of their killing bats.
Liberty Gap’s studies on the turbine’s noise impact were conducted too far away, about 4,000 feet from the nearest turbine, when the nearest town was just 2,000 feet away from turbines, the PSC said.
And it neglected to develop a plan for protecting area bats or to file for federal permits that are required when threatened or endangered species may be killed, as the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the PSC had both recommended, the PSC said.
The PSC’s siting rules are designed to give all parties a chance to evaluate projects before the PSC, McKinney said. The commission “is concerned about the apparent inability or unwillingness of applicants to comply with provisions of those rules.”
The plant, estimated to cost between $175 million and $190 million, would produce up to 125 megawatts of electricity.
Maisano said Liberty Gap Wind Force, which is owned by U.S. WindForce LLC of Wexford, Pa., is still deciding what to do next.
“We will continue to review the decision and our options going forward,” he said. “But it is a difficult day for our supporters who have seen real economic opportunity escape from their grasp.”
One wind-power project is operating in West Virginia: the 44-turbine, 66-megawatt Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in Tucker County, owned by FPL Energy LLC of Juno Beach, Fla.
Three other projects are planned in the state, including another by U.S. WindForce. It wants to build 75 to 90 turbines, generating up to 150 megawatts, on a Grant County site. So far, those plans haven’t drawn any legal challenges.
Chicago-based Invenergy wants to build up to 124 turbines, generating up to 186 megawatts of power, on a northern Greenbrier County site. It won final PSC approval in January, but a nearby landowner and an advocacy group, Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, sued over the PSC approval, and in April the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
And Shell Windenergy Inc., a division of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and London-based NedPower have plans to erect up to 150 turbines, generating up to 300 megawatts, in Grant County. As with Invenergy’s project, the state PSC has approved this one, but it, too, faces a lawsuit.
By Joe Morris
23 June 2007
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