The two big energy companies behind construction of a Grant County wind-power project say they want to expand it by more than half its size, even though a lawsuit challenging it is headed for trial.
Dominion Resources Inc. and Shell Wind Energy Inc. announced on Tuesday that they intend to build 50 more turbines next year, generating 100 megawatts of power, on a mountaintop near Grassy Ridge.
Those turbines would be built next to 82 others the two companies are erecting now through a joint venture called NedPower Mount Storm LLC that will generate 164 megawatts.
The developers’ decision could signal new optimism among power companies about West Virginia’s prospects for building wind plants, as the state has proven a challenging place for developers to gain approval.
But it’s also something of a gamble for NedPower, since a court defeat could halt the entire project.
The NedPower turbines under construction are scheduled to begin operation sometime in the last three months of this year, developers say. They spawned a 2005 lawsuit by seven nearby homeowners claiming the project would constitute a nuisance and deflate property values.
Though a Grant County judge threw out the suit, the state Supreme Court remanded it back to the circuit court in June. Both sides await a trial date.
“It’s a good project in a good location,” said Dan Genest, a Dominion spokesman. “We already had crews there, so it made sense to continue.”
NedPower had considered the possibility of building in Grant County in two phases early on, though it decided to proceed with the second phase only now, he said. A third phase, involving 18 more turbines, is possible, Genest said.
“There are no plans for a third phase,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there won’t be one.”
The second phase, as well as any third phase, would need approval from the state Public Service Commission.
The PSC already has signed off on the first phase of NedPower’s project. But the lawsuit asks that a judge overturn the PSC’s approval because the turbines would make too much noise, cause the sun to appear to flicker and endanger residents with broken blades and projectile ice.
The presiding judge rejected that request, ruling that he lacked authority to question PSC decisions. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which found that the circuit judge had no legal basis to dismiss the suit.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, former state Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely, was on vacation and couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Dominion isn’t disclosing how much the second phase would cost, Genest said. But NedPower officials have said the first phase costs about $300 million.
The first phase will generate enough electricity to power about 41,000 houses, while the second phase would power about 25,000, according to a news release issued by Dominion.
Genest said the NedPower energy will be sold on the open market to PJM Internconnection of Valley Forge, Pa., a consortium of power generators, transmission owners, electricity distributors and power marketers that coordinates the supply of wholesale electricity in Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Dominion calls the project an environmentally sound solution to growing demand for electricity, especially in fast-growing Northern Virginia.
But the Grant County suit challenges both claims, arguing that the project will generate scant power and endanger birds and bats. The developers’ underlying motive is to reap federal and state tax breaks, the suit says.
Two other West Virginia wind projects are planned right now.
Invenergy LLC of Chicago has won PSC approval to build up to 124 turbines, generating up to 186 megawatts of power, on a northern Greenbrier County site of less than 500 acres. But a nearby landowner and an advocacy group, Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, sued over the approval, and in April the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. A hearing is expected in the fall.
U.S. WindForce LLC of Wexford, Pa., also has plans to put up 75 to 90 turbines, generating up to 150 megawatts, on a Grant County site near NedPower’s. The PSC has approved the project and, so far, it hasn’t run into any legal challenges.
The company had planned to build another plant, at Liberty Gap in Pendleton County, but the PSC denied that proposal in June.
By Joe Morris
1 August 2007
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