The idea of harnessing the wind for power generation is extremely gratifying and makes us feel like it’s most certainly the right (green) thing to do. I watched with mixed emotions as the turbines were erected on Backbone Mountain and I hoped that these turbines were part of the solution for the huge energy demand that we so desperately need, even if they were ugly. So now they are here and there are plans for thousands more to be built. When you see them for the first time, they are intriguing and look surreal, a true novelty, especially for this area, but when the novelty wears off, they’re still there ruining our viewsheds.
During the summer of 2004, I had the opportunity to work on a house nine-tenths of a mile from the turbines located near Fairfax Sand and Gravel. It didn’t take long to notice the constant noise produced when they were in operation. After two weeks, our work was completed and I commented to my crew, “I’m glad I don’t live in earshot of the turbines.” I can’t imagine trying to sleep on a summer’s night with that noise. Will you folks in Crystal Springs experience noise and shadow flicker?
So now, the AES Corp. has applied to construct up to 65 industrial wind turbines, 427 feet tall, on Laurel Mountain. My home will be seven-tenths of a mile from these turbines if this project goes through. I literally got weak in the knees upon hearing this news. My initial reaction was “not in my backyard.”
I have since educated myself about these wind turbines and feel even stronger than my initial reaction. The promoters of wind never tell the whole story. They claim their facility will generate a set amount of power for so many homes. This is only true if the wind turbines produce their maximum output 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The average annual production for a wind farm is between 20 percent and 30 percent of their rated capacity, due to no wind, low wind or shut-down time due to high winds. Wind is not predictable nor can the power produced be stored. In this region most of this power is produced during the winter and at night when demand is low. During the summer when demand is high, there is little wind. With only 25 percent of rated capacity available and difficulties integrating into a coal-powered grid, most of the power produced is excess. The Backbone Mountain wind turbines produced one-fifth of 1 percent of all the power produced in West Virginia in 2000. A pretty small return for such a huge investment.
Environmental problems are a serious concern – such as noise, shadow flicker, stripping our ridge tops that affects our water quality, huge access roads, bird and bat kills. We already know that wind turbines kill thousands of birds and bats every year. In California, they are tearing down some turbines because of huge raptor kills over a 15-year period. Bird kill research on the Backbone Mountain wind turbines was terminated when the company realized how extensive the bird kills were. What about wildlife on the ground? If I can hear these turbines, I know that deer, turkeys, bears, etc., can hear them. Will they leave the area? What about hunting? Listening is a big part of hunting. Will you be able to hear over the drone of the turbines? Will you be able to hunt on the mountain top? Most turbines have a huge buffer zone on both sides of the ridge. How will they affect our property values? There are proposals to even put these things in our national forests.
Wind turbines have been in service in Europe for many years and are now falling out of favor due to the many problems associated with them. The Germans and the Danes, with their huge population density, have good reason to make them work. They have become so dependent on wind turbines that when there is no wind they must be backed up by additional coal-fired power plants. All wind farms require backup facilities.
In September at an informational meeting sponsored by the Randolph County Commission, Charlie Falter, AES managing director, assured the audience that there would be no reduction in the use of coal or loss of coal-related jobs when the turbines are in operation. To make matters worse, you and I as taxpayers are literally funding the construction of these turbines. Each turbine costs about $3 million to build, of which AES Corp. receives $2 million in federal tax credits. For B&O tax liability, West Virginia lawmakers passed a law allowing wind turbines to be valued at 12 percent of their nameplate capacity instead of the normal 40 percent and for personal property taxes they pay a mere 5 percent of their salvage value (I wish I could get a deal like that), denying our state and counties millions of dollars in tax revenue and dollars that we could put to good use.
On Jan. 16, in The West Virginia Record, Steve Korris quoted West Virginia State Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher as saying, “These are nothing but tax credits for wealthy people,” referring to the wind turbines in Greenbrier County. Most of our local politicians don’t seem to have much to say one way or another. It must be too controversial to take a stand. AES Corp. has plans to widen the roadbed on Proudfoot Williams Road to 36 feet plus berms and ditches on a now 16-foot-to-18-foot-wide road. In a recent letter from the head of West Virginia’s Department of Transportation, he states that as a public utility, AES Corp. has the right of eminent domain. He is wrong – AES Corp. is not a public utility.
Advocates for wind say the construction provides jobs, but they are temporary. Only a few permanent jobs – maybe six to eight – will remain upon completion. Will we lose jobs in our tourism industry? Tourists don’t specifically come to see windmills.
It is not fair for proponents of wind to make West Virginians feel guilty for opposing wind turbines. West Virginians have paid a high price supplying coal for our country. If anything, the rest of the country owes West Virginia. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on here, but basically it’s just another big out-of-state corporation telling West Virginians what’s good for us. It hasn’t worked out too well in the past and I doubt it will now.
I urge everyone to educate yourself and get past the “feel good” part associated with these turbines. A good place to start to learn more is the Web site www.wind-watch.org. Contact your local elected officials and the state Public Service Commission. Ask questions and take a stand. How can mountaineers be free if you can’t even go to the mountaintop?
16 February 2008
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