The proposed windmill project that could bring nearly 50 windmills to the ridgetop between Randolph and Barbour Counties on Laurel Mountain by 2009 is being greeted by mixed opinions by folks in the community.
One local group, the Laurel Mountain Preservation Association, has vocally expressed its concern with the project at Randolph County Commission meetings. Another group, the West Virginia Green Energy Alliance, has been actively pushing for the windmills to be constructed because of the benefits it says will come to the community. Both groups recently discussed their views on the proposed project with The Inter-Mountain.
The Laurel Mountain Preservation Association has been vocal at several governmental and public meetings regarding its opposition to the wind turbines. Members Art and Pam Dodd said the organization was formed in 2005 “to monitor and protect water resources and to promote an appreciation for the importance of the historical significance of the Battle of Laurel Hill.” They said the group has about 60 members.
“Our group opposes the construction of wind turbines on the ridgetop of Laurel Mountain or any other mountain because, on a regional scale, the clear-cutting of large ridgetop areas for wind turbine construction reduces our groundwater recharge,” the Dodds said. “The West Virginia Groundwater Protection Act states that over 90 percent of West Virginia residents rely on groundwater for their homes. The increased runoff to streams not only destroys headwater habitats and increases the potential for flooding, but also creates an imbalance in the water cycle that would lower our groundwater reserves forever.”
The Dodds said the group’s goals and objectives are to preserve the watershed, the headwater habitats for the Tygart Valley River watershed, and the historical significance of the Battle of Laurel Hill. He said they oppose the windmill construction on the ridge because of the destruction of the environment and the destruction of historical heritage.
“With respect to preserving our heritage at the Laurel Hill Battlefield, the wind turbines would undermine the effectiveness of the re-enactment of the Battle of Laurel Hill, which takes place every year in July,” the Dodds said. “This battle was a pivotal battle at the very onset of the Civil War: If the Confederates had prevailed at Laurel Hill, all of West Virginia would have continued to be part of Virginia. The result of this one battle placed West Virginia solidly under Union control.
“Concerning water resources, our mountain ridgetops are vital areas for groundwater recharge and for the unique headwater areas where the food chain begins for all stream life,” the Dodds said.
Supporters of the project, the West Virginia Green Energy Alliance, have been distributing literature throughout the community regarding the benefits of wind power and other information. Spokesperson Joel Martin said the group formed in September and currently has 328 members.
“We are passionate about this incredibly important national issue,” Martin said. “We want to see more wind power development, not less. We want to see other alternative energy projects come to our state. West Virginia can play an important role in the future of this country but only if we set aside trivial personal agendas and address national priorities with the urgency they deserve. We want our state to be a participant and beneficiary of the growing alternative energy industry, not simply sitting on the sidelines while others benefit from it. We can turn our backs on it, but we cannot stop it. Will we take the incredibly selfish position of saying to the rest of the nation, ‘You solve this problem for us, and send us clean renewable energy whenever we want it.’”
Martin said approximately 80 percent of the group’s members are Barbour and Randolph County residents and the balance lives throughout northcentral West Virginia.
“We have really just begun to sign people up in a more aggressive manner, as we anticipate the debate over wind power will now be gaining momentum,” Martin said. “In addition to our members, the State Farm Bureau has voted to support alternative energy in West Virginia, including wind power. The president of the Barbour County Farm Bureau has pledged 500 supporters … and the Belington town council has recently passed a motion that supported alternative energy.”
The power company behind the project, AES, says benefits will far outweigh any negative issues. AES Managing Director Charlie Falter recently told The Inter-Mountain that the company is continuing to work on its permit application and expects to submit it to the West Virginia Public Service Commission in January 2008.
“As with almost any type of project, there is a level of opposition and our project is no exception,” Falter said. “Our project also has substantial support due to the many benefits it will provide. Included amongst those benefits are more than $500,000 per year in state and local taxes, 80 to 100 jobs during construction, eight to 10 jobs during operations and the supply of clean, renewable energy. We will continue our efforts to bring these significant benefits to the area.”
According to Falter, some advantages include producing electricity with no greenhouse gases, no emissions and no water consumed. He said the electricity is produced with a free and inexhaustible American fuel – wind, which Falter called “a step in the direction of U.S. energy independence … because the electricity generated displaces the power from another source and the associated fuel that would have been burned.” Other benefits, he said, include substantial state and local tax revenue, along with economic development and creating jobs.
Disadvantages include a potential adverse effect on avian creatures including birds and bats, along with the large towers, which some people find unsightly.
AES is a global power company with 120 power facilities in 26 countries. Except for nuclear, AES power facilities include almost all types of fuel sources coal, natural gas, oil, hydro and wind. The company is traded on the NYSE and headquartered in Arlington, Va. AES is not affiliated with any of the existing windmills in West Virginia. For additional information, visit www.aes.com or American Wind Energy Association’s Web site www.awea.org.
By Ben Simmons
15 December 2007
Laurel Mountain Preservation Association: laurelmountainpreservationassociation.org
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