The possibility of windmills being erected along the Randolph and Barbour County line could begin as early as 2009, if the application is approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission, a spokesperson for AES said. Many groups, however, have been voicing opposition to the project, and most recently, Elkins City Council has decided to look at how the windmills may effect the local economy and future plans for development.
AES submitted an application for a siting certificate to the state PSC on Jan. 31, 2008, to construct up to 65 wind turbines on an eight-mile stretch of the Laurel Mountain ridgeline, approximately three miles east of Belington and three miles northwest of Elkins. The public comment period is open and extends through March 13. If granted, the facility and related interconnected facilities would be used by AES to generate electricity exclusively for wholesale in the competitive wholesale market in West Virginia and other locations.
“The three-volume application contains project details including extensive studies related to environmental, visual, historic and many other project-related subjects,” Barry Sweitzer, director of the AES Laurel Mountain project said. “These studies were conducted throughout 2007 in addition to onsite wind data collection. Copies of the application have been placed in public libraries in Randolph and Barbour counties and the application can also be downloaded from the PSC’s Web site.
“The results of the wind data show that the project would generate power to customers 85 percent of the time throughout the year and provide a total annual output equivalent to the consumption used by 39,000 average homes,” Sweitzer said. “The environmental studies also indicate that site is a sound choice for development of wind power generation.”
The PSC will issue a determination in the case within 300 days of the application submission date. During that time, the PSC staff will provide legal and engineering review of the application to protect the public interests in the project. The PSC will also conduct hearings in the case to gain more information before rendering a decision. Notice of these hearings will be provided to allow public participation in the PSC process.
If the project is approved by the PSC, Sweitzer said construction is expected to begin in early 2009. He said it would provide up to 100 local construction jobs and additional operation and maintenance jobs once the project is in operation. Construction of 125 megawatts of wind power would result in AES paying approximately $800,000 annually in state and local taxes and make AES one of the largest tax payers in Randolph and Barbour counties, he said. AES estimates that construction of the facility would cost approximately $250 million.
Members of Elkins City Council are taking a cautious approach toward either supporting or opposing the project.
“We want to take a look at the effect of the windmills on our local economy, particularly any interference that might come with things such as the development of the airport, which is a major economic asset for this area,” Elkins City Councilman Duke Talbott, 4th Ward, said. “We also want to take a look at how they would affect the emergency evacuation helicopters that land at Davis Memorial Hospital and also on Corridor H.
There are a number of other concerns that council members have, Talbott said. “We are in the process of reviewing the impact, both negative and positive, and those are certainly some of the questions we have.”
The application is on file and available for public inspection at the PSC office, located at 201 Brooks St. in Charleston. Anyone who wishes to protest or intervene should file a written protest or notice of intervention by March 13, unless otherwise modified by commission order. Failure to timely protest or intervene can affect your right to protest aspects of this certificate case, including any associated rate increases or to participate in future proceedings. All protests or requests to intervene should briefly state the reason for the protest or intervention. Requests to intervene must comply with the commission’s rules on intervention set forth in the commission’s rules of practice and procedure. All protests and interventions should be addressed to: Shandra Squire, Executive Secretary, P.O. Box 812, Charleston, W.Va. 25323. If no protests are received within the 30-day period, the commission may waive formal hearings and grant the application based on the evidence submitted with the application and its review.
More information about AES’ project can also be found online at www.aeslaurelmountain.com.
By Ben Simmons
23 February 2008
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