Opponents of a proposed wind farm in Greenbrier County asked the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to reject the Public Service Commission’s conditional approval of the project, claiming the PSC didn’t follow its own rules in balancing the project against the public’s interest.
The justices heard arguments on the $300 million Beech Ridge Energy project. Chicago-based Invenergy wants to place 124 wind turbines along a 23-mile stretch of ridgeline owned by Stamford, Conn.-based MeadWestvaco.
The PSC attached 25 conditions when it approved the permit in August 2006, including limiting lighting at the site and conducting studies on the project’s impact on bats and birds.
A group of local residents called Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, and Jeffrey and Alicia Eisenbeiss of Renick challenged the permits. Part of their argument was the PSC’s application permit didn’t include opponents’ input on issues such as the cultural and historical importance of the area.
“To the people who are going to live under these 400-foot turbines, they need to be included in those balancing acts,” attorney Justin R. St. Clair, who represents MCRE, told the justices.
But Lee Feinberg, representing Beech Ridge, said the PSC conducted hearings over six days concerning issues such as traffic flow, tourism and whether hunting could continue in the vicinity. He said the PSC also determined there weren’t any significant landmarks in the area.
Additionally, Feinberg said, MCRE waited eight months before filing motions to dismiss the application. Opponents can go to the PSC or to circuit court to ensure the attached conditions are enforced, he said.
“I look at those 25 conditions and say that’s for their (residents’) protection,” Feinberg said.
John Auville, an attorney representing the PSC, said the commission properly considered various interests, including the public’s, and complied with state law in issuing a siting certificate.
The residents’ group claims the PSC should have found the company’s application insufficient because a required map showing a 5-mile area was too small in scale to distinguish relevant local features, including utility corridors, transportation routes, bodies of water, and historical areas.
But Auville said the map gave the commissioners an “abundance” of cultural and historical information to make a decision.
“Ultimately they decided there was nothing here to mitigate,” Auville said. “For example, the commission in the past has removed a string of turbines because it was close to Dolly Sods. They didn’t see anything like this in this case. But to say there was no culture and history in the record, that’s not correct.”
Opponents also claimed the PSC placed too much emphasis on the region’s need for renewable energy resources and that the project would hurt property values and spoil scenic views.
But Feinberg said, “the only way you would see a lot of turbines is if you were in an airplane flying above it.”
The justices didn’t immediately rule on the petition.
9 January 2008
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