It isn’t over by a long shot, but residents of Pendleton County, W.Va., who banned together to argue against industrializing Jack Mountain have a lot to be proud of.
In the course of nearly three years, the very grass roots group Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County gathered reams of research, raised thousands of dollars, and successfully made the point that Liberty Gap LLC and its parent company, U.S. Wind Force LLC, should not be allowed to ignore the potentially damaging effects their 50-megawatt wind utility could have on the environment and quality of life for residents here who have little to gain from the project – and much to lose.
Their efforts have paralleled those here in Highland County in a similar fight against the 39-megawatt utility proposed by Highland New Wind Development – both opposition groups have given everything they’ve got to alert their political leaders that industrial wind energy does not provide electric power without consequences.
Liberty Gap’s record of ignoring or dodging the siting requirements installed by West Virginia’s Public Service Commission is unconscionable. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual. For a big business which stands to make millions by installing commercial wind turbine towers subsidized by taxpayer dollars, Liberty Gap felt it had little to lose by doing as little as it could to get its way because that’s the way it usually goes.
First, the company tried a back-room deal with Pendleton’s officials that would have allowed the use of eminent domain if all the rights of way needed for the miles-long transmission line couldn’t be secured without taking private property. Then it published inadequate public notices or omitted them altogether. Following that, it put forth a ridiculous argument to ban those opposed from inspecting the site, and entered into the record a five-mile map that didn’t come close to addressing view shed issues. Over and over, Liberty Gap appeared to take every shortcut it could find to avoid providing the information residents, and state commissioners, deserved in order to get an adequate picture of how this utility would affect their lives.
In the meantime, the mouthpieces for industrial wind energy continue to insist these kinds of projects are somehow going to “save” the financially strapped localities of rural Appalachia and save the planet with their “green” energy contributions – self-serving arguments which have proven empty time and again.
Wind energy companies in this country are not about to back away from the windfalls they stand to gain from tapping public money to eliminate their risks. Their renewable energy arguments still ring true among idealist environmentalists who have not taken an objective look at the evidence. Politicians in every state at every level still get a lot of traction from a voting record that reflects their interest in saving the environment and reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Despite the fact that neither is true, they happily carry the wind lobby’s water by asserting wind is economical and efficient.
Under the circumstances, it’s astounding that Liberty Gap’s project hasn’t already been built. If it weren’t for the citizens in Pendleton who saw through the propaganda, much of Jack Mountain’s ridge would be cleared by now to make way for the 400-foot towers and transmission line poles.
And it still may happen. Liberty Gap will ask the PSC to reconsider, and much of the application details found lacking could be filled in to the PSC’s satisfaction. Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County will have to raise even more money to complete their own evidence, and that will be difficult. Those citizens who have put their lives on hold for nearly three years to continue this legal battle will likely have to muster the energy and resources to carry on for months or perhaps years to come.
But this time around, no one will be discounting the staying power and heartfelt dedication to their cause that has sustained the local opposition. These “ordinary” folks have humiliated the powerful special interests supporting Liberty Gap, not with the brute force of corporate propaganda that has been used against them, but with the truth.
We truly hope the decision makers in Virginia have been watching closely.
5 July 2007
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