Although the West Virginia Public Service Commission has not yet ruled whether to grant AES’ siting permit to construct up to 65 wind turbines on the Laurel Mountain ridge between Barbour and Randolph counties, the company has already secured agreements with landowners to move forward if approved.
According to property records at the Barbour and Randolph County courthouses, AES has entered into lease option agreements with 11 land owners including Coastal Timberlands Co., Heartwood Forestland L.P., Myles Family Foundation, Polino Enterprises Inc., Mac Dingess, Houston Booth, Joel and Wendy Martin, Carol Molnar, McCoy Bros. Inc., John M. Mossesso and Richard Yingst Jr. All of the agreements were obtained separately from the landowners, some signed as early as 2005, and all are for five years.
“The property owners recognized the benefits of being able to contribute to providing clean, renewable energy and at the same time be able to continue to use their property as they always have for residences, timber production, hunting and farming,” said Barry Sweitzer, AES project director for Laurel Mountain Wind LLC. “They also recognize that being a part of the project can help to reduce tract fragmentation and development by providing some income without the need to subdivide their properties which can have a far greater impact on the land than a wind turbine project.
“The fact that an owner would want to have wind turbines on the same property on which they live, farm, hunt and otherwise use the property is one of the strongest demonstrations that there are no serious negative impacts from wind turbines. These owners have visited operating wind generation facilities and know exactly what to expect and are excited about the project,” he said.
Sweitzer said the option agreements were not required to be obtained before submitting the siting permit to the PSC.
“While it is not a strict requirement to have all of the land under agreement for a project before submitting an application to the PSC, it is helpful to be able to demonstrate that there is the ability to obtain, or that a company has already obtained the land,” Sweitzer said. “It was our approach to get enough land under agreement to complete a project before submitting the application to the PSC for this project.”
The agreements give AES lease options for 43 parcels of land, totaling 8,528 acres. No compensation amounts are included in the documents, but Sweitzer said landowners would be paid an option payment and then receive annual payments after the project is constructed.
“The total project impact for turbines and roads is 150 acres out of the total,” Sweitzer said. “Most of the land that is signed under agreement will not have to be touched. No new overhead transmission lines will be required and all of the project will be located on private property.”
Sweitzer said AES also plans to have an operations and maintenance building located on the project site, although the exact location of the building has not yet been determined. He said it would house office space, spare turbine parts, computer monitoring equipment and maybe a small shop area.
According to Sweitzer, the land currently under agreement is all that is needed to be able to complete the project.
If the project is approved and construction completed, Sweitzer said the land would be re-vegetated and the access road width would be reduced because it would no longer be needed for large equipment.
“The area cleared for a turbine is less than two acres during construction – about the same as for many houses with large yards,” Sweitzer said. “After construction, much of this area can be allowed to become reforested closer to the turbines over time.”
According to Sweitzer, the turbines are expected to have a minimum useful life of 30 years. But with proper maintenance, he said it could be operated longer, which is expected to be up to and beyond 45 years. After the turbines are determined to be beyond their operating life, he said they would be removed with the full cost of removal covered by AES as a requirement by the agreements with the landowners.
The PSC is still accepting public comments to determine whether to grant AES’ permit or to have public hearings on the matter. As of Friday, the PSC has received 132 letters of protest and 105 letters of support.
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.
By Ben Simmons
22 March 2008
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