Even though the time frame to intervene is officially over, the West Virginia Public Service Commission is still accepting public comments regarding AES’ application to construct up to 65 windmills on Laurel Mountain. Letters of support or opposition to the project from the public may be submitted for the next 300 days.
Whether the PSC will decide to conduct public hearings or grant the permit outright to AES remains to be determined.
As of Friday, the PSC’s Web site listed 130 letters of protest and 75 letters of support. Two organizations, The Laurel Mountain Preservation Association (LMPA) and West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, have filed petitions to intervene.
“In general, our petition to intervene simply states that their application was inadequate,” said Art Dodds, a member of the LMPA. “They are trying to get people to assume that just because the windmills are there they are producing energy. During our almost four years of research into this, we are discovering that where we are in the mid-Atlantic region, there is probably going to be more fossil fuel burned as a result of the windmills being present than if they were not.”
Dodds remains adamant that the windmills would have a negative impact on ground water supplies, animal habitats and the historical significance of the Laurel Hill Battlefield, which was recently nominated to the National Registry of Historic Places.
Several organizations have sent letters to the PSC to formally oppose the project. Elkins City Council filed a resolution with the PSC opposing the issuance of AES’ certificate on Friday after passing the resolution during a special call on Thursday. The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia has also filed a request to be involved in the decision-making process before the permit is issued to AES. Other opponents include Friends of Blackwater and Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County Inc.
PSC Attorney Leslie Anderson filed a staff memo on March 6 regarding the legal division’s recommendation to grant the LMPA and Trade Council’s petition to intervene.
AES submitted an application to the PSC for a siting certificate on Jan. 31 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. If granted, the facility and related interconnected facilities would be used by AES to generate electricity exclusively for wholesale in West Virginia’s competitive wholesale market as well as in other locations.
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 the Randolph and Barbour County libraries for public access. The application can also be downloaded from the PSC Web site at www.psc.state.wv.us.
If the project is approved by the PSC, AES Project Director Barry 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’s interests in the project. Based on feedback during the comment period, the PSC could also decide to hold public hearings in the case to gain more information in support of rendering a decision.
Anyone who wishes to file a letter of protest or support should address their letter 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 by visiting 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
15 March 2008
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