The proposed windmill project for Laurel Mountain is being greeted with mixed opinions by several residents and organizations within the community. Two local groups, the West Virginia Green Energy Alliance and the Laurel Mountain Preservation Association, have taken decisively different stances regarding AES’s application to the West Virginia Public Service Commission to construct 65 windmills on an eight-mile stretch of ridgetop between Randolph and Barbour counties.
The PSC is currently in the process of accepting letters of support or opposition to the project from the public. As of Friday, the PSC had received 68 letters protesting the windmills and eight letters of support, according to its Web site. Two organizations, The Laurel Mountain Preservation Association and West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, have also filed petitions to intervene.
Joel Martin, a spokesperson for the WVGEA said the organization is in favor of the windmills because of the environmental and economic benefits they would bring to the area.
“We are pleased to finally see the process move from the initial contest over public opinion, to one of a formal review of factual data by objective and competent reviewers of fact,” Martin said. “A group of ‘hot button’ issues have been created and repeated in an attempt to falsely enrage our local citizens. These hollow and misleading issues will predictably have little or no effect on the PSC, who is ultimately charged with making the correct decision. We feel that the PSC is not only capable of conducting an objective unbiased review, but will render a decision based upon real facts, not fiction.”
On Jan. 31, 2008, AES submitted an application for a siting certificate to the PSC to construct up to 65 wind turbines on Laurel Mountain in Randolph and Barbour counties. The three-volume application contains project details including extensive studies related to environmental, visual, historic and many other project related subjects. Copies of the application have been placed in both Randolph and Barbour libraries for public access and the application can also be downloaded from the PSC Web site at www.psc.state.wv.us.
“The AES application is very detailed and not only shows a very favorable wind resource – generation will take place over 85 percent of the time – but includes studies that show the Laurel Mountain site is acceptable with regard to wildlife in general, birds and bats, archaeological and historical impacts,” Martin said. “The PSC will collect public input in various formats from written to open forums where the public will get a chance to voice their opinion. It is predictable that each side of the debate will be represented and present their interpretation of the issues. The public meetings will be long, contentious and ultimately resolve nothing.”
According to Martin, economic development for Randolph and Barbour counties is one of the most important issues for the West Virginia Green Energy Alliance.
“This project will contribute large sums of money into the public and private sectors in both counties and will noticeably improve the quality of life for our citizens,” Martin said. “It has been shown by study after study that areas with installed wind farms not only embrace them after a short period of time but seek to expand them. We hope the PSC strongly considers the long term good for the majority of people in the area as opposed to the private and often political interests of a small group of well-funded and vocal opponents.”
One vocal opponent of the project, The Laurel Mountain Preservation Association, has filed a petition with the PSC to intervene in the project.
Art and Pam Dodds, who serve as spokespeople for the organization, said the group 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. Art Dodds said the group’s main goals are to preserve the watershed, along with the headwater habitats of the Tygart Valley River watershed and the historical significance of the Battle of Laurel Hill. They oppose construction of the windmills on the ridge because of the destruction of the environment and the destruction of their historical heritage.
“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,” Art Dodds said.
Pam Dodds said 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 the groundwater reserves. She said other disadvantages of the wind turbines include a potential adverse effect on avian creatures including birds and bats.
“Another concern we have is these wind turbines really are not providing any useable amount of electricity,” Pam Dodds said. “They can only produce electricity while the wind is blowing, and that has to be used instantly. It’s not something that could be stored in a battery.”
John and Joan Terry own several acres of property near where the turbines would be constructed. They oppose the windmills because they say it would negatively effect the value of their property.
“The project will, without a doubt, negatively effect the value of real estate within sight of the turbine towers,” John Terry said. “The scenic tranquillity of our mountains and rural charm is one of the region’s greatest assets.
“In proposing their industrial wind site on Laurel Mountain, AES – through their application with the PSC – makes the assumption that there is no residential future for West Virginia mountain land. Among the pages of their voluminous filing with the PSC are two maps delineating seven zones where there is the probability of shadow flicker. AES, and the wind industry in general, will tell you that houses should not be built in or near these zones.”
Barry Sweitzer, director for the Laurel Mountain project, said the windmills would offer several benefits to the community and many myths about wind turbines need to be dispelled.
“Opponents claim that wind turbines are bad because they cannot ‘store’ the energy for times when the wind is calm,” Sweitzer said. “Power generated from wind is no different from coal, oil, gas or nuclear in its ability to be stored. With a few rare exceptions, none of it can be stored. At any moment in time, the power being generated matches the power being used. However, in one sense, wind power is stored. It is stored in the coal, oil, or gas that was not burned during the time that the wind was being used.”
Sweitzer said another popular myth is wind power projects are “built with taxpayer money.”
“Again, the fact is that the project will be completely privately funded by AES,” Sweitzer said. “There are no governmental handouts to build wind projects. There are federal tax incentives based on the amount of power that is generated. But the power must be generated to earn the incentives. This has no bearing on state and local taxes for the project, which will be approximately $800,000 annually… . We need to focus on the many benefits that wind power offers to the local community, the environment and the overall national energy policy.”
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.
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 in support of rendering a decision. Notice of these hearings will be provided to allow public participation in the PSC process.
The sitting permit application for Laurel Mountain is on file and available for public inspection at the PSC office, located at 201 Brooks St. in Charleston. Anyone wishing to protest or intervene should file a written protest or notice of intervention by March 14, unless otherwise modified by commission order. All protests or requests to intervene should briefly state the reason for the protest or intervention. All protests and interventions should be addressed to Shandra Squire, Executive Secretary, P.O. Box 812, Charleston, W.Va. 25323.
Scanned copies of most formal case documents filed with the PSC can be found online at http://www.psc.state.wv.us/webdocket/. Documents pertaining to the Laurel Mountain project can be found by searching for case number 08-0109-E.
By Ben Simmons
1 March 2008
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