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State Supreme Court justices this morning will hear arguments over a proposal to build 124 giant wind-power turbines along 23 miles of Greenbrier County ridges.
Local opponents of the Beech Ridge Energy LLC project are appealing the state Public Service Commission’s decision to approve the $300 million development.
Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy argues that the PSC ignored its own permit regulations and did not obtain adequate information about the wind project’s potential impacts before approving it.
“The result is that the commission has concluded that the project’s potential positive impacts outweigh the potential negative impacts, without considering all of the potential negative impacts,” wrote Justine St. Clair, a Peterstown lawyer for the organization, known as MCRE.
PSC lawyers respond that their agency followed all of its rules, and “properly appraised and balanced all of the different interests, including those of the public.”
Lawyers for Beech Ridge agree, and add that the MCRE “represents only a small portion of the ‘public,’ and, in fact, there are numerous members of the public who support the project.”
“There is a lot of support for our project – it just hasn’t been talked about as much as has the opposition,” Dave Groberg, Beech Ridge’s project director, said last year.
In April 2007, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed to consider the appeal of Beech Ridge’s PSC approval, the second major wind power case to be heard by the justices.
A few months later, in June 2007, the court voted 4-1 to send back to circuit court a nuisance case seeking an injunction against NedPower Mount Storm LLC’s plans to erect 200 wind turbines along a 14-mile stretch of the Allegheny Front in Grant County. No trial date has been set.
So far, the 44 giant windmills at the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center on Backbone Mountain in Tucker County remain the only wind towers operating in West Virginia, though the NedPower construction is continuing.
Developers have proposed a variety of projects to expand wind power generation in West Virginia and across the region. They see strong winds along the state’s eastern mountain ridges as a source of clean power to replace coal and help deal with the climate change crisis.
But opponents, including some local citizens, argue that wind will make little difference in the nation’s energy needs, while huge industrial wind “farms” will kill birds and bats and damage scenic views. Reps. Nick J. Rahall and Alan Mollohan, both D-W.Va., also have been critical of wind expansion, and a federal audit found little effective state regulation of the growing industry.
In the Beech Ridge case, the PSC approved the project in August 2006 and then in January 2007 denied a motion to reconsider filed by opponents. Both orders are being appealed to the Supreme Court.
The court consolidated separate appeals filed by the Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy group and by two area residents.
Beech Ridge proposes to put its 186-megawatt wind facility – including a 14-mile transmission line – on about 400 acres near the Greenbrier-Nicholas County line.
Among the locations for turbines are Shellcamp Ridge, Smokehouse Ridge, Beech Ridge, Rockcamp Ridge, and Cold Knob Mountain. Each turbine would be mounted on a 262-foot tubular steel tower and consist of three 127-foot blades, court records show.
Project opponents argue that developers did not submit – and the PSC did not require – complete and accurate maps showing water bodies, roads, land uses, and other important features in the area.
“If the five-mile map submitted by an applicant portrays the local vicinity as a cultural wasteland, then clearly any adverse impacts of the proposed project will be considered minimal,” lawyers for the MCRE group said in their court brief. “As such, it is in an applicant’s best interest to ‘minimally comply’ with the five-mile mapping requirement.”
PSC lawyers responded that the map contained most of the important items and was “not that deficient.”
Lawyers for the company added that the argument over the map was “extremely narrow and trivial when compared to the broader duty of the commission to carefully balance the interests of the public, the general interests of the state and local economy and the interests of Beech Ridge.”
By Ken Ward Jr.
9 January 2008
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