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Greenbrier wind farm hearing set for Jan. 9

LEWISBURG – State Supreme Court officials say a Jan. 9 date has been set for oral arguments concerning two separate appeals of a Public Service Commission decision which granted the green light for a $300 million windfarm project in northern Greenbrier County.

The high court decided in April to hear the appeals by Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy and Jeffrey and Alicia Eisenbiess. Since then, several other businesses and organizations have filed briefs in the case.

According to Supreme Court information services director Jennifer Bundy, “friends of the court” briefs have been filed by MeadWestvaco, West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, West Virginia American Water Co., Appalachian Power, and West Virginia Telecommunications and Energy Coalition.

Bundy also said the West Virginia Building and Construction Trades Council was allowed to intervene as a party to the case and will present oral arguments in January. The organization has been backing Chicago-based Invenergy’s effort to build 124 electric producing wind turbines near Williamsburg.

Sammy Gray, director of governmental affairs for West Virginia American Water, said the decision to enter into the windfarm debate was the concern whether the high court would change how permits are granted by the PSC. The firm is the state’s largest private water provider.

“The issue at hand is how the PSC processes applications,” Gray said Tuesday. “Currently the PSC can give conditional approval pending the approval of other agencies. If we would have to seek secondary agencies approval for building a project prior to the PSC’s approval, then if the PSC rejects the application, a lot of money is being wasted.”

This strikes to the heart of the appeals by anti-windfarm opponents who say the conditional approval of the Beech Ridge Windfarm project does not allow the PSC to weigh the opinion of agencies such as the state Historical Preservation office when deciding building permits.

MCRE spokesman Dave Buhrman said he welcomes the chance for the high court to hear these types of arguments in January.

“MCRE argues that the application by Beech Ridge developers did not comply with the letter and spirit of the PSC’s own rules, and as a result of this noncompliance, the potential impacts of the project on the communities within the local vicinity were not adequately considered,” Buhrman said.

The high court has at least three options concerning the appeal of the PSC order. It can reject the appeal, dismiss the building permit, or send it back to the PSC with instructions, officials say.

Dave Groberg, Invenergy’s director of business development, said the project has basically been on hold until the Supreme Court issues a ruling in the case.

Groberg said about $2 million has been spent thus far on Beech Ridge project. He said the appeals by anti-windfarm groups have put the project behind by about 18 months.

“If the court chooses to accept the PSC’s decision, then we go forward from there,” Groberg said. “If they dismiss the application, I’m not sure what we will do. We don’t have a contingency plan for that. We still believe this is a really good place for the project.”

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Jan. 9 in Charleston.

By Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

The Register-Herald

4 December 2007