The West Virginia Public Service Commission has scheduled two public hearings on the proposed wind farm by AES for the Laurel Mountain ridgeline between Randolph and Barbour counties. Comments will be accepted beginning at 1 p.m. May 7 at Elkins City Hall and at 7 p.m. at the Barbour County Courthouse.
An evidentiary hearing in the case is set for Aug. 4-8 at the PSC headquarters in Charleston. If the PSC grants AES’ siting permit, nearly 65 wind turbines could line the ridge by 2009 .
The project has been met with mixed opinions among the citizens of both counties. Legislators from both districts were recently asked by The Inter-Mountain to share their opinions regarding the proposed project.
Over the past month, multiple e-mails were sent to all state senators and delegates within both districts. Sens. Clark Barnes, R-15th District, David Sypolt, R-14th District, and Jon Hunter, D-14th District, responded.
Hunter said he has received several e-mails from citizens voicing their opposition to the windmills. Although he said he supports renewable energy, he said he would not support the wind farm if it would have a negative impact on tourism events such as the Battle of Laurel Hill.
‘‘I am not sure of their exact location and hope they will not be within sight of the historic battlefield,’’ Hunter said. ‘‘If so, I will oppose them, too. While I generally support renewable energy like windmills, I have great concern about where they are sited and feel the WVPSC needs to develop some clear-cut guidelines on where they can be sited. If they do not, then it’s up to the Legislature to develop them.’’
Barnes said although opponents and proponents for the project have solid arguments, he would like to see the PSC have authority to establish more regulations.
‘‘It is very difficult for the legislators to take a firm position when there is so much information and the information is both valid and scientific from both sides of the argument,’’ Barnes said. ‘‘However, I will say this, I have asked for the past three years, due to legislative process, that the Public Service Commission be authorized to develop rules and regulations on the siting requirements for these wind turbine projects. There would be a benefit for both sides if this were done.’’
By establishing siting requirements, Barnes said the ground rules would be laid before a project ever gets considered. By doing this, he said wind farm developers would know up front if a project could go into an area or if it is eliminated from an area. He said some of the requirements that the PSC should be required to look at would be environmental concerns, tourism and property values.
‘‘We need to know how we are going to proceed in the future,’’ Barnes said. ‘‘We can’t just keep piecing this stuff together. If we are going to go forward with wind energy, we need to look at how we are going to do it and establish the ground rules.’’
Because of the vast amount of information available, Barnes said he believes both the environmental and energy communities are divided on the issue.
‘‘The environmental community can’t decide whether the green energy that is produced from windmills is more beneficial than the environmental damage that they cause with construction and the killing of bats and birds, etc.,’’ Barnes said. ‘‘The energy community is divided as to whether or not it’s a viable source of energy. There is a lot of information – a tremendous amount of information on both sides – the pro and con for the environmental community and the pro and con for the energy community. One of the problems with wind energy is it does not create a constant source of energy being fed into the grid, so therefore at peak times, the hottest months of the year, there might not be any wind. It might not be stirring and there would be no benefit.’’
On the other hand, Barnes said he believes it is important that alternative sources of energy are developed, particularly non-carbon based.
Barnes said he believes the issue is not being tackled on the state level because most legislators have not been faced with wind farm projects in their districts.
‘‘The vast majority of elected officials don’t have to deal with this, it’s not in their back yard,’’ Barnes said. ‘‘They have not yet seen the importance or relevance to make an issue out of it. As more and more legislators are faced with these developments in their districts there will become more and more interest. At this point, the Legislature and the governor have apparently decided this issue is not important enough to them to take action and make some hard choices on how we are going to deal with wind energy in the future.’’
Sypolt said he likes the idea of using wind to generate energy, but would like to see the technology used be more efficient.
‘‘Personally I like the idea of using windmills to generate electricity,’’ Sypolt said. ‘‘It would be even better if the technology were available to harness more energy from each turbine. None-the-less, the more research and development that goes into turbine design, the more efficient they will become. Perhaps in the future one wind turbine will generate as much power as 10 turbines do now.’’
The PSC is currently accepting letters of support or opposition to AES’ siting permit to establish up to 65 windmills along eight miles of the Laurel Mountain ridgeline. Scanned copies of most formal case documents filed with the PSC can be found by visiting
By Ben Simmons
28 April 2008
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