A state proposal for limiting bird and bat deaths at a planned windmill site in Highland County is so costly it could endanger the project, the developer’s lawyer says.
The state’s proposal for monitoring and limiting the deaths would cost up to $6.8 million over the 20-year life of the project, said the lawyer, John W. Flora of Harrisonburg.
The developer, Highland New Wind Development, prefers a program costing $600,000, with $150,000 coming from the state or some other source.
“Our proposal is very generous for a project of this size,” Flora said during a State Corporation Commission hearing yesterday.
The state is making a good-faith proposal for protecting wildlife, said Roger L. Chaffe, a state lawyer representing the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “Wildlife is one of the resources of the commonwealth that are protected by law,” he said.
It remains to be worked out how to protect flying animals from the windmills and their spinning blades. But state officials say the cost could be much less than the $6.8 million.
Highland New Wind is proposing to build 19 windmills on two ridges about 150 miles northwest of Richmond. Each would stand nearly 400 feet tall – about the height of the Federal Reserve Bank building in downtown Richmond.
The $65 million project would be Virginia’s first major wind farm. A permit from the SCC represents its last big regulatory hurdle.
In March, SCC hearing examiner Alexander F. Skirpan Jr. recommended approval pending development of a program to limit bird-and-bat deaths.
The commission directed Skirpan to hold a hearing on ways to best monitor and limit the deaths. The hearing should conclude today.
A monitoring program could include counting carcasses. A so-called mitigation program – ways to limit the deaths – could involve shutting down some windmills when the flying animals are active.
State biologists suggest monitoring the animals over several years. Highland New Wind wants a shorter monitoring plan, of perhaps one year.
Much of the potential cost of the state’s plan involves lost revenue from periodically shutting down windmills, Flora said.
It could take Skirpan several weeks to make a recommendation to the commission. The commission should rule on the project later this year.
Supporters say the windmills would create up to 39 megawatts of power, enough for 10,000 to 15,000 homes. Opponents say the wind-dependent turbines would provide little power compared to their environmental harm.
By Rex Springston
18 July 2007
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