On June 22, 2007, the West Virginia Public Service Commission “refused to issue” Liberty Gap Wind Force, LLC a “siting certificate” to construct a wind farm along the crest of Jack Mountain. This ridge runs parallel to and a few miles east of the S. Branch of Potomac River from a point a few miles south of Franklin, WV to the Virginia state line. The facility would have been 7 miles long and included up to 50 turbines with combined output of up to 125 megawatts.
Liberty Gap is a subsidiary of US Wind Force LLC which has been trying to develop wind projects in WV, PA, and MD for a number of years. The other WV projects include a PSCapproved project north of WV Route 93 and east of Stony River and a newer proposal along Allegheny Front near Keyser.
Liberty Gap’s original application was filed on November 18, 2004 and withdrawn just six weeks later in an atmosphere of scandal. Liberty Gap had secretly offered funds to the County Commission to construct a remote water line extension. In return the Commission was to use eminent domain powers to secure Transmission Line rights-ofway needed for the wind project. They filed again in December, 2005.
The Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County were the lead interveners. Other interveners included the Highlands Conservancy, Larry V. and Rebecca K. Thomas, the WV Building and Construction Trades Foundation, the Chestnut Woods Association, Chestnut Woods President Larry Hargrove acting personally, and Highlands Conservancy Officer Frank Young acting personally. The Commission limited the participation of the Conservancy and Chestnut Woods through strict interpretation of a requirement that corporate interveners have legal representation.
The author (who owns high mountain property a few miles away) considers this wind farm proposal the most harmful of those thus far submitted in terms of potential visual, cultural, economic, and environmental and wildlife impacts. So do lots of other folks in Pendleton County. The PSC case file contains 566 entries, the greatest numbers of which are letters-of-protest from County citizens.
In rejecting the application, the Commission cited specific deficiencies including (1) fundamental inadequacy of a required 5-mile radius map characterizing the surrounding area, (2) failure to address historical and cultural impacts, and (3) inadequate evidence regarding viewshed, noise and endangered bat species. The Order stated thatthese deficiencies alone provided sufficient grounds to reject the application. The Order also provided a long list of other areas where it was felt that the application was adequate.
While the Siting Rules are largely a prescription for what an application must contain, the State Code does direct the Commission to appraise and balance the interests of the applicant, the public, and the state and local economy in reaching its decision. The Order stated that the record failed to provide the information needed on environmental and community impacts in order to carry out this appraisal in the prescribed fashion.
This author’s quick review of the Order left the impression that the refusal was based as much or more on perceived inadequacy of the applicant’s presentations as on the power and enthusiasm behind those of the interveners.
A long list of dedicated individual, organizational and expert opponents played roles in this case. The Conservancy role was limited but significant. Financial support was provided. A high-quality photographic collection documenting the scenic and cultural wonders of Pendleton County and probable impacts was prepared by Jonathan Jessup and Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County activist Barbara Dean. This was submitted for the case record and also presented in an artistically scripted form at the May 2006 public hearing in Franklin. Frank Young, acting as an individual intervener was active in the wildlife discussions at the Evidentiary Hearing in Charleston. He has a special credibility through his demonstrated fair-mindedness which strengthened the opposition case.
By Peter Shoenfeld
5 July 2007
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