An SCC officer said wildlife protection outweighs financial concerns.
Backers of a proposed wind farm in Highland County would have to search daily for dead birds and bats and curtail turbine operations to limit loss of animal life under a proposed wildlife-protection plan issued Wednesday by a Virginia State Corporation Commission hearing officer.
Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the company proposing the project, said the hearing officer’s plan would impose heavy costs that could complicate the search for project financing.
“I’m not saying it could kill the project. I’m saying it could threaten the viability of the project,” said Maisano, speaking for backers of Highland New Wind Development.
There should be plenty of revenue to make the wind project financially viable and still protect wildlife, according to the report by Alexander Skirpan, the SCC hearing officer in Richmond.
His report now goes to the SCC for a final decision on whether the project can be built in a 4,200-foot cow pasture outside Monterey.
Citing “significant risk” to bats, and “a lesser risk” to birds, Skirpan recommended that backers of the 19-turbine project should pay for monitoring and altering their use, including speed, for the life of the wind farm.
Further, Skirpan asserted, the quality of wildlife protection necessitated by the introduction of huge whirling blades into the remote area is more important than the backers’ “ability to pay” even if those costs “would render the project financially not viable.”
Earlier this month The Roanoke Times reported that a financial analysis mistakenly released by the SCC showed that Highland New Wind Development expects to earn more than $4 million a year after paying off equipment and other startup costs.
The company, also known as HNWD, is seeking certification from the SCC to build a $60 million wind energy plant that would be Virginia’s first. The SCC has already found the project will provide economic benefits and not disrupt electrical service or competition.
James Jennings, a lawyer who represents a group of concerned residents in Highland County, including some adjacent landowners, said his side will ask the SCC to impose more stringent terms on Highland New Wind than Skirpan recommended.
In particular, the residents believe HNWD should be required to qualify for a permit to account for any incidental deaths of endangered species, such as the Virginia big-eared bat, which migrates through Highland County, or bald and golden eagles. HNWD opposes the stipulation.
“Endangered species will be killed in this project,” Jennings predicted.
By Jeff Sturgeon
18 October 2007
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