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Blowing in the wind; alternative energy may be on Horizon for Shenandoah Valley  

A Harpers Ferry, West Va. company has recently begun the process of attaining permits to start construction of a turbine wind generation facility along the western horizon of the Central Shenandoah Valley.

In this and upcoming articles, we will explore the background and future ramifications of such a development in order to present you with all the information that you’ll need to make informed decisions. While there are many federal and state laws which will directly affect the future of the project, in the final analysis, it’s what done at the local and county level that will have the biggest influence on how, and in what form the project goes forward.

•••

Freedom Works, LLC (located at 525 Wren Lane, Harpers Ferry, W Va., 25425) is proposing a wind-powered, electric generating facility consisting of 131 turbines, each 440 feet high. Their plans call for a turbine capacity of 215 megawatts, of which the facility (all 131 turbines) would realistically produce approximately 70 megawatts on a continuing basis.

Freedom Works is planning the project to span the ridge line running along the border between Va. and West Va. The line runs from approximately five miles north of Woodstock to about five miles South of Mount Jackson, along the Western horizon. This would cover eighteen miles of ridgeline, in two states (Virginia and West Virginia), and three counties (Hardy in West Virginia, and Shenandoah and Rockingham in
Virginia.)

The timeline for the project runs from as short as a two-year, permit-gathering phase (followed by one to two years of construction) to a completion date as far off as the year 2040. When asked about a reported 2010 completion date for the project, Jim Smalls, district ranger for the Lee Ranger District within which the project is being planned, simply said, “I find that optimistic.” Looking out his window of the conference room at the Lee Ranger District office in Edinburg, Smalls points to spot on the ridge where the project may be built, visable from Route 11, and definitely from Interstate 81 in our area.

The permit process will likely be the most time-consuming part of the project, starting with the FAA, which will need to be convinced that the turbines will pose no danger to commercial and pleasure aircraft operating in the area, then moving to the Department of Defense (DOD), which will want to take a close look at any possible interference with the department’s military training routes, many of which take advantage of the sparse human population within National Forest areas.

Assuming an affirmative from these agencies, the company will be set to make a formal application to the U.S. Forest Service for a permit to construct from one to perhaps five meteorological towers (often referred to as “met towers”) allowing Freedom Works to gather the information it will need to decide on the feasibility of the full-scale project.

Smalls said that these temporary towers would likely consist of 100-foot poles with guidewires extending downward. Freedom Works would be allowed a period of from six months to two years to do their studies in order to confirm their initial projections that there is sufficient wind on the site to move ahead.

According to Smalls, there are two other wind projects currently in different phases of development specifically proposed to be constructed on U.S. Forest land. These include wind testing projects in the Huron-Manistee Forest in Michigan and in the Green Mountain Forest in Vermont. “They are further along than we are,” Smalls said.

Just yesterday, Smalls had been in touch with his U.S. Forest counterpart in Michigan as wind projects on U.S. Forest land are a relatively new development, and precendents are being set.

Along the way, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC), as well as the individual counties involved, will have their own questions to be answered and paperwork to be filed. As this is only the second commercial wind project begun in the state of Virginia – and the only one so far on government land – there are still many unknowns as to the actual procedures that will be required before the final go-ahead is given.

Highland New Wind Development, Virginia’s first industrial wind utility, is setting the benchmark for the process, but it is still far from being standard operating procedure.

A look at the need for wind power Virginia currently meets half her electrical demand with coal-fueled power plants, the rest coming from nuclear, oil and natural gas-fired generators. Wind power has long been recognized as a clean, renewable energy resource, which is being studied as an alternative to coal, oil and nuclear electrical generation.

While not yet passed into law, the proposed Virginia Energy Plan calls for the Voluntary Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 12% of Virginia’s electricity to come from “renewable resources” by 2020. While the Plan seems like a good idea at first glance, further study shows that some of the alternatives create problems of their own, some arguably more serious than the ones they solve.

Data gathered by the U.S, Energy Information Agency (“Environmental Impacts of Wind Projects, National Research Council, 2007) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“Environemnetal Impacts of Wind Projects,” 2007), as well as reputable independent researchers (e.g. Peterson and Lambert) are showing that switching to renewable energy sources will do nothing to address the growth of energy demand, which is estimated at 2.5% per year.

At this conservative rate of growth, electrical usage in the State of Virginia will double in less than 30 years. Even with the implementation of the RPS plan, Virginia will still require the construction of new, non-renewable fired power plants to keep up with projected demand. In other words, as long as energy demand outstrips the implementation of renewable energy sources, there will be no real progress made.

Environmental concerns

Biologists have raised concerns that inland wind farms could kill large numbers of common, as well as endangered bat species, such as the Indiana and Virginia big eared bats. Currently, the state’s first wind farm, the 20-turbine facility (operated by Highland New Wind Development LLC in Highland County) is being monitored closely by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in an attempt to discover the effects on federally-protected birds and bats.

It has been reported that building the roads to the turbine site and then building the turbines on the land may disrupt up to 500 acres of U.S. Forest land. In addition, the project has been reported to be right in the middle of northeast U.S. bird migration paths. The possible endangerment of engangered species is yet another issue.

By Susan Beaver Thompson and Arthur James Maas

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

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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