A proposal to develop Virginia’s first major wind farm is moving forward through gusts of opposition.
Highland New Wind Development, led by retired poultry businessman Henry T. McBride of Harrisonburg, is proposing to build 19 windmills on two 4,300-foot-high ridges in Highland County, about 150 miles northwest of Richmond.
Opponents say the nearly 400-foot-tall windmills would kill birds and bats and mar mountain views. Supporters say the $65 million project would provide clean energy and local revenue.
The developer cleared a big hurdle Sept. 14 when the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously knocked down two legal challenges mounted by Highland residents. The project has local approval. It now needs only a permit from the State Corporation Commission.
In March, SCC hearing examiner Alexander F. Skirpan Jr. recommended approval pending development of a program to limit bird and bat deaths. Skirpan is expected to issue a new report soon that will recommend ways to protect the flying animals. Suggestions could include slowing or shutting down the windmills when the animals are most active.
Studying and preventing the deaths could cost millions, and if the cost is too high, Highland New Wind says it could endanger the project.
The SCC is expected to rule on the case, and specify requirements for protecting birds and bats, this fall.
Supporters say the windmills would create up to 39 megawatts of power, enough for 10,000 to 15,000 homes. Opponents say that is an overly rosy estimate.
The project is being closely watched. Depending on who is talking, approval could open the door for other much-needed wind projects in Virginia or start the widespread desecration of the state’s wild ridges.
By Rex Springston
7 October 2007
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