Proposals for wind farms in the Valley are whipping up opposing viewpoints about the structures’ effects on wildlife, local vistas and energy production.
Opponents say the turbines, each hundreds of feet tall, would mar the local landscape and endanger bats and birds, some of which are federally protected.
But proponents say the farms can be built with minimum impact on the environment to offer clean, alternative energy and a break from the nation’s dependency on foreign oil.
“[Wind power] isn’t going to take over as the No. 1 power source, but it’s going to help make the fuel-mix cleaner and we need to do it wherever we can,” said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic Wind Developers, which he described as an informal coalition of wind farm developers.
Maisano said he supports the construction of a wind farm in the George Washington National Forest, proposed by FreedomWorks LLC, a renewable energy firm based in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
But Larry Thomas, vice president of Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County, said the proposed 130 wind turbines would endanger forests and affect surrounding counties, including Pendleton County, W.Va.
“If the projects were allowed to be constructed in the GW National Forest, there would be industrial wind turbines on the mountaintop from approximately [W.Va.] 55 to the north to … [U.S.] 33 to the south,” Thomas said.
The wind farm proposed by FreedomWorks could produce a third of the 215 megawatts for which the turbines are rated, said Managing Director Tim Williamson.
That energy, Williamson said, would be sent to the state power grid and used instantaneously by local areas, as well as large metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C.
More clean energy, he said, would prevent construction of more coal-fired power plants in Virginia, including the 585-megawatt Dominion Power facility in Wise County. The Wise plant is now under review by the State Corporation Commission.
“If we can stop installation of the Dominion power plant, so be it,” Williamson said. “We’d love to do that. It’s not all about the money.”
Currently, half of Virginia’s energy demand is met by coal-fired power plants, and the rest comes from nuclear, natural gas- and petroleum-fired power plants, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Concerns For Wildlife
But biologists have raised concerns that inland wind farms on the East Coast could kill large numbers of common bats, and possibly the federally protected Indiana bat and Virginia big-eared bat.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is monitoring the state’s first wind farm, the Highland New Wind Development LLC, in Highland County. The state agency is studying whether 20 wind turbines will affect federally protected bats and birds.
After studying maps and coordinates provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, consultant D. Daniel Boone, a conservation biologist and policy analyst, said the FreedomWorks’ project could negatively affect untouched areas of the George Washington National Forest.
“Other than a power line and one small road which crosses between Hardy and Shenandoah counties, the project area is completely undisturbed forest with no sign of logging roads or clear-cuts,” Boone stated.
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