I attended the Elkins City Council meeting on March 6 to observe the debate over the proposed wind farm to be located on Laurel Mountain. An informational presentation was given by Joel Martin of the West Virginia Green Energy Alliance, a pro-wind advocate group. Martin, who owns land where windmills may be located, was seated with Barry Sewitzer, AES Development manager, and Bob Muir of AES Alternative Energy-Wind Division LLC.
As Martin was speaking, an associate was passing out printed information as well as numerous photos to the mayor and council members in support of his stance. Upon completion of his presentation, council members asked some very excellent questions pertaining to the project. Questions about visual pollution, environmental concerns, noise, carbon footprints and energy credits.
Martin proclaimed, “Wind power is not visible from a distance: … and people say there is no noise.” Personally, I have heard noise at nine-tenths of a mile from the windmills, and I have seen all 44 windmills on Backbone Mountain from Weiss Knob in Canaan Valley, a distance of 14 miles. The windmills on Mount Storm are visible as you drive into Petersburg, a distance of 14 miles.
He also stated, “I cannot guarantee that there will be no destruction,” when asked by Councilman Rob Beckwith what effects the windmills would have on the ecology and environment. Sweitzer stated, “Clearing space for windmills is no different than clearing space for a Walgreens or Wal-Mart.” I fail to see the comparison myself. Further questions about energy credits and carbon footprints were posed, and in my opinion, Martin, now aided by Sweitzer, was lacking both information and knowledge about the subject.
In AES’ application to the Public Service Commission for a siting certificate, in the second volume page 5, they state, “there is a demonstrated need for additional generating capacity in the region as well as the PJM (grid managers) power markets which include West Virginia.” Maybe AES isn’t aware that West Virginia already exports 70 percent of the power produced in the state. We certainly don’t need the power. West Virginia being a huge exporter of power has transmission lines running everywhere, providing wind developers easy access to the grid. With no real sitting regulations, no mass population to deal with, and armed with tax credits and incentives, both federal and state, once again West Virginia is ripe for exploitation.
Sen. Byrd was recently quoted as saying, “One of the most important sectors for economic development in West Virginia is environmental tourism. Our Wild and Wonderful slogan aptly describes the beautiful vistas.” How do these windmills fit into this picture? Especially in Elkins, the home of the Mountain State Forest Festival. If AES is allowed to pursue their plans, the upcoming Forest Festival will be the last without windmills in the background.
It is essential that this project be halted now as others are waiting in the wings. Allowing the first windfarm to be built is the proverbial “foot in the door,” making it even tougher to oppose future windfarm development. There are numerous questions and arguments surrounding these windfarms and a logical solution to allow time for study and thought would be to pose a moratorium on any further construction.
Hopefully our mountains and wind will always be here. Wind developers want to cram these wind turbines down our throats and act as if this is the only chance we’ll ever have to take advantage of this so-called “wonderful opportunity.”
At one point Councilman Beckwith, who was responding to Martin, exclaimed, “Not in my backyard. I do not want visual pollution in my backyard,” and the crowd applauded. There is a cumulative effect associated with the development of all these windmills and what the developers of wind don’t realized is that these wind turbines are ugly and don’t fit into the overall picture of how most folks in Elkins, Randolph and Barbour counties and the great state of West Virginia want to portray ourselves.
I would like to thank the mayor of Elkins and its council members, who have obviously put some serious thought into this important decision, for their time and effort. Where are our silent county commissioners? Their only concern, that I have seen or heard, seems to be, what will happen to these windmills when they are no longer of any use. A good question, but there is much that needs to be addressed long before that day arrives.
5 April 2008
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