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Wind energy sneaking in under cloak of darkness  

In December 2004 it was announced that an application for siting an industrial wind energy project in Pendleton County had been filed with the West Virginia Public Service Commission. Because I had no idea of the affect the proposed project would have on our county, I embarked on a monumental fact-finding project to determine what industrial wind energy projects are all about and whether the claims advanced by the project developers and the industry were valid.

I started my fact finding with a review of Web sites of both proponents and opponents of industrial wind energy, attended meetings and had conversations and interviews with representatives of both groups as well as individuals living close to existing industrial wind energy projects. I have even traveled to as many as six industrial wind energy projects, some of them with repeated visits, to see firsthand the industrial wind energy projects in action. Based on that research, I have concluded that the cumulative negative impacts, environmental and others, far outweigh the benefits to be attained and that it is not in the public interest to permit the industrialization of one acre of the pristine mountain tops in the Eastern United States, the Commons owned by “We the People,” with industrial wind energy projects.

The current political wind is in favor of the developers and industrial wind energy interests, thereby significantlyinfluencing the pressure on our natural environment. If the trend continues, how much of our national, state and private forests will remain when our fast expanding population will likely be desperate for a little breathing room in the future – 25, 50 and 100 years from today? I am well aware of the issues of global warming and the nation’s energy requirements and am totally convinced that industrial wind energy projects on the ridge tops of the mountains in the Eastern United States is not the solution and unworthy of the billions of dollars that we are bestowing upon this industry.

A major reason for the increasing opposition to the development of large industrial wind projects in the mountains is loss of visual amenity, the effects of highly visible vertical man-made structures with rotating blades located in predominantly horizontal, static natural hillscapes. The loss of beautiful scenery, favorite views and inspiring landscapes are objections dismissed by large corporate developers as emotional and subjective. Locating large industrial wind projects in the scenic mountains throughout the Eastern United States is not appropriate. They are in the wrong place. They just don’t fit.That assessment is neither emotional nor subjective.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission is responsible for the review and approval or disapproval of applications for siting of industrial wind turbine projects in the State of West Virginia and has published siting application rules and requirements for these industrial projects. In addition, the Public Service Commission has made efforts to safeguard and protect the public interest through special provisions in licenses issued to such projects. While these are admirable efforts, these provisions remain inadequate until such time as all appropriate studies are completed concerning the cumulative affects of the industrial wind energy projects sited throughout the mountains. There are currently 19 industrial wind energy projects that have been identified, one completed, one in the construction phase, two approved and not yet started, one with an application filed with the West Virginia Public Service Commission and the remainder in some level of the planning stage in West Virginia. Two projects that are in the planning stage would be located in the George Washington National Forest in Pendleton and Hardy counties. Where are they being planned for the Monongahela National Forest?

Currently licensed projects have had and will continue to have irreversible affects on our environment by destroying important wildlife and wildlife habitat, killing huge numbers of bats, destroying highly prized scenic vistas (the view shed surrounding these projects extends for miles), impacts on local tourism-dependent economies (in West Virginia tourism is our fasting growing industry and in our mountains it is critical to local economies) and residents by impairment of property values, significantnoise pollution created by the rotors and mechanical equipment for residents living in close proximity to the turbines and undue stress to the health and safety of residents living in close proximity of the turbines.

In the February 2006 edition of The Voice, I asked the question, what is the cumulative affect of siting thousands of industrial wind turbines in the Mid-Atlantic region? Although some attempts have been made to answer that question, the question has not been answered. Additional studies of the cumulative effects of industrial wind energy projects on the environment, citizens, state and community economics and the cost effectiveness of wind power as an alternative energy source must be completed before any additional industrial wind energy projects are approved. State of West Virginia agencies, which should be involved in these studies by their own admission are playing catch-up and not empowered to examine questions concerning these projects and their potential impacts. Even worse, the West Virginia Public Service Commission is not required to seek the assistance of those same agencies (wherein the professional experts in matters significantto these applications are employed by the state and paid for by our tax dollars) in its review of a proposed industrial wind energy project application and the required information provided therein. There are more than 30 state agencies with the expertise to provide a state wide governmental review of applications submitted to the Public Service Commission.

The claims of the benefits of industrial wind energy facilities on important public policy goals, such as the reduction in our use of imported petroleum, green house gas emissions and electrical grid reliability have been proven to be non-existent.

The claim that industrial wind energy facilities will reduce our use of imported petroleum is misleading. Given that the bulk of our oil usage is for transportation, industrial and residential purposes and given that we use so little oil for electricity production, even if large numbers of industrial wind turbines displaced the small percentage of our electricity now produced by oil, we would still be heavily dependent on traditional sources of electricity and we would still be mightily dependent on foreign oil.

The claim that industrial wind energy facilities will reduce green house gas emissions was addressed in the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects, National Research Council study “Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects” summary concerning Co2, SO2 and NO2 emissions. The Committee concluded that “development of wind powered electricity generation using the current technology probably will not result in a significantreduction in the total emissions of these pollutants from the electricity sector in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

The claim that industrial wind energy facilities will benefit electrical grid reliability is also misleading. Industrial wind turbines have variable electrical power outputs. The amount of electrical power generated at any moment in time is determined by the wind speed at that particular moment. In addition, industrial wind turbines produce electricity only when the wind is blowing within the right speed range. Today’s models may begin producing some electricity at wind speeds of about 8 mph, reach rated capacity around 33 mph, and cut out around 56 mph. Because their output is intermittent, volatile and largely unpredictable, the electricity they produce has less value than electricity from reliable (“dispatchable”) generating units. Electricity grids must be kept in balance (supply and demand, voltage, frequency etc.), so one or more reliable, dispatchable generating units must be immediately available at all times to “back up” the unreliable wind generation. The reliable, backup units must ramp up and down to balance the output from the wind turbines, producing more pollution in the process. Wind turbines therefore detract from grid reliability and would be of no value in restoring an electric grid when there is a blackout. Wind turbines have virtually no “capacity” value.

Industrial wind turbines are huge structures that produce an insignificant amount of electricity, only when the wind blows within certain speed ranges, as explained above. Electricity generated from industrial wind energy facilities does not reduce emissions from traditional fossil fueled generating plants which must be available immediately because of winds intermittent nature. Those generating plants will be running at less than full capacity or in “spinning reserve” and will be producing emissions while in a backstopping mode.

Developers of industrial wind energy facilities have not demonstrated through supported and documented information the “substantial positive impact on the local economy” nor do they provide realistic “estimates of the effect of a project on the local and state economy.” They have portrayed economic benefit through the use of computer modeling which does not portray reality for small study areas such as the rural counties that cannot absorb the tremendous economic benefits that are portrayed.

In conclusion, the negative issues, problems and drawbacks of siting industrial wind turbines on the pristine mountains is not the answer our nation’s need for energy sources. Why are we allowing them to infiltrate our ecologically fragile landscapes and cause huge negative impacts?

I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things. – Benjamin Franklin

Larry Thomas
Franklin, W.Va.

The Recorder

3 April 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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