Unidentified firm seeks to build in national forests
Parts of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests could be gone with the wind.
An unidentified company has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration to construct 90 440-foot wind turbines in Virginia and another 41 in West Virginia, according to the FAA’s online database. The proposed site is national forest land in Rockingham and Shenandoah counties, as well as Hardy County, W.Va. The application was received March 18 and is listed as a work in progress.
Chris Rose, a spokesman for the national forests, said the anonymous company is in the pre-application stage, meaning a formal application has yet to be submitted, and the developer’s identity can remain confidential. The company was asked to get FAA approval before making a formal application, he said.
Several testing sites would be approved by the Department of Agriculture before a wind farm could be built, Rose said. The locations are unknown, but public hearings would be part of the approval process. The sites would be used for meteorological tests, such as measuring wind speed and direction, Rose said.
If the company likes what it finds at that point, it would have to go through the same process before receiving permission for a wind farm, Rose said. “The big thing we want to get out is that you’re not going to see 130 towers along the ridgeline within a year,” he said.
But the fact that interest is out there for such a project is a sign of things to come, said Rick Webb, operator of www.vawind.org and a senior scientist with the environmental sciences department at the University of Virginia.
“This is probably the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Eighteen miles of national forest ridgeline, most of which is on Shenandoah Mountain, stands to be affected by the proposal, Webb said.
“It’s industrializing our national forest,” he said. “The question is whether it’s worth the trade-off. In my conclusion, it is not. The electricity produced is just a drop in the bucket.”
The arguments against wind energy are numerous and have been vocalized with no greater outcry recently than in Highland County, where 22 turbines are proposed by a Harrisonburg developer. On its Web site, the group Highlanders for Responsible Development states that reasons to oppose such a project include evidence that turbines kill bats and birds, violate pristine views, generate light pollution and go against the rural nature of the county.
More than 1,000 residents and landowners signed a petition against construction of the Highland County turbines, the site states.
But wind energy has its advantages in addressing concerns with global warming, and proposals to build turbines need to be studied on a case-by-case basis before being approved or turned down, conservationists said.
“We do love the idea of clean energy, but we think you don’t go down a path without knowing what’s down there,” said John Eckman, executive director of the Valley Conservation Council in Staunton.
On its FAA application, the unidentified company lists Sept. 30, 2010, to 2040 as the work schedule for the 131 turbines. Webb said a better solution would be offshore development, where most wind resources can be found. That sort of development has yet to occur in the United States, he said.
That leaves the best and only solution, Webb said – conservation and efficiency.
“We’ve got to cut back on our [electricity] use,” he said.
By Preston Knight – Daily Staff Writer
26 March 2008
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