Shenandoah Mountain is fit with high-quality breezes and a location near population centers, a necessary combination for wind farms such as the one being sought by a West Virginia firm, a wind expert said.
Frank Maisano, a spokesman for a coalition of wind-energy developers in the region, said Monday that a proposal from FreedomWorks LLC to construct 131 wind turbines on the mountain can be a success because East Coast residents are lacking such a source of renewable power.
“If you look at the region, the wind on the ridge, whether it’s in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia or Virginia, there are very few areas where there is quality wind,” he said.
FreedomWorks, a member of Maisano’s coalition from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to build 131 wind turbines in Rockingham and Shenandoah counties and Hardy County, W.Va. The company’s name was not included in material on the FAA’s online database last week.
The turbines would be 440 feet tall.
The FAA is just one of the agencies the project will have to go through, Maisano said. Eventually, it will require the endorsement of the U.S. Forest Service since the turbines would sit in parts of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.
“We’re at the very beginning of the timeline,” Maisano said. “The reality is, hopefully we’ll have [meteorological] towers up sometime soon [for testing].”
It’s around then, if not sooner, that FreedomWorks might expect some criticism. The effects of turbines on bats, birds, views, a county’s rural nature and more are all documented complaints of wind energy, and were among the reasons why more than 1,000 people opposed a smaller project in Highland County.
Maisano said developers do extensive research to make sure turbines are properly sited, including consideration of access to transmission lines.
“I understand why somebody in the region may not like it,” he said, “but just because you don’t like wind turbines isn’t a good reason to say we ought not do it.”
Bryce Resort will keep an eye on the project, said Horst Locher, co-director of ski operations. As a smaller ski destination, Bryce can rely on bigger resorts to try their hand at new amenities to the industry before making a decision on whether to follow suit. Wind energy has entered that equation.
Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts in-stalled its own 1.5 megawatt wind turbine last year, a multimillion-dollar effort meant to reduce its operating costs while also providing electricity for 350 homes, Locher said.
“Clean energy, if oil goes up, gas goes up, that’s the only way we can survive,” he said. “We haven’t made any thought of it. We are aware some areas have thought about it. Maybe It’s feasible.”
Politicians will have their say, too, if the local project moves forward. Del. Todd Gil-bert, R-Woodstock, said his office would be making inquiries soon, but that more knowledge of wind energy is needed before he can form an opinion on it.
“I’m one of the biggest proponents for trying to get off the dependence on oil,” he said, “but the fact of the matter is, the most cost-efficient energy sources we have are traditional ones, not alternative ones.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, should be familiar with the issue. His law firm represented Highland New Wind Development LLC, which is seeking to build the 22 turbines in Highland County.
Obenshain could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The FreedomWorks project, because it involves three counties and national forest land, may be a complicated one to work through, Maisano said. But the first step – ascertaining whether the wind is good enough to warrant a farm – is one the company is ready to take, he said.
“Our belief is that this has very good potential,” Maisano said. “We’re going to do some serious investigation to make sure our hunch is correct.”
By Preston Knight – Daily Staff Writer
1 April 2008
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