Elkins City Council chambers was packed Wednesday afternoon for a West Virginia Public Service Commission public hearing as people spoke for and against the AES proposed windfarm project on Laurel Mountain.
The meeting started with Chris Callas, the attorney representing AES, and WVPSC Staff Lawyer Carrie DeHaven presenting opening statements.
“I am here to assist AES to obtain a citing certificate to construct a wind power project on Laurel Mountain.” Callas said. “It is a good place for wind power. It is a continues ridge that has wind resources.”
Callas said AES will not have to construct a transmission line because there is already a line running through the proposed site. He also said the location was distant from residents and the private land owners are supportive of the project.
DeHaven explained how the WVPSC process works and that it will examine the interest of AES, the state, the local economy and the people. She said all testimony for the project must be filed by July 23 and the evidentiary hearings will be conducted from Aug. 4 through Aug. 8. The WVPSC order would come on Nov. 26.
“This case has not been decided,” Dehaven said.
WVPSC Chairman Michael Albert then opened the public hearing portion of the meeting. Those for the project were matched about evenly against those against the project. Twenty-two people took the time to speak to the WVPSC – 10 spoke in favor of the project, 11 against the project and a representative from the Randolph County Airport Authority stated the authority was not for or against the project but wanted further investigation conducted to see how the project could affect the airport.
“We want to make sure we can minimize the potential danger to the airport and the pilots,” Dick Cheney said. “Pilots fly at a low altitude to get into and out of the airport.”
Cheney also wanted to know if the windmills could potentially create any affect on air traffic and if the windmills put off any sort of magnetic field that could affect instruments in the airplanes.
President of the North Central West Virginia Building and Trades Council Darwin Snider said his organization is in support of the project.
“I represent those who would build these wind farms,” Snider said. “Workers on this job will be getting $40 to $50 an hour on this project.”
Larry Young, representing the West Virginia Building Trades Council, said the council fully supports the project and it would be very positive for the area.
“This is a great job for us,” Snider said. “These kinds of jobs mean everything to us.”
Sue Lickens, a Laurel Mountain Road resident, said she is concerned about many aspects of the project including the affect the wind turbines would have on wildlife.
“AES paid for the wildlife studies,” Lickens said.
Lickens also spoke about noise and how the windmills would affect the property values of those who live near the wind farm.
“We are tax paying citizens and we did not ask for the turbines,” Lickens said. “We are entitled to happiness. They (AES) say there will be no noise or affect of wildlife.”
Lickens said AES would receive tax credits for the wind farms.
“It is plain and simple that they have everything to gain and we have everything to lose,” Lickens said. “We are selling out for a few dollars.”
Pam Dodds of Montrose has taken a stand against the wind turbines for many months now and said she likes to do research before buying into any claim.
“Several claims have been made by AES,” Dodds said.
Dodds questioned AES’ claims that the windmills will produce clean energy, reduce oil costs and be of minimal environmental harm.
“They (the wind turbines) must use electricity from the grid to operate,” Dodds said. “When wind power is added to the grid, the coal fired plants must decrease their output to prevent explosions when the wind power ramps up.”
Dodds said West Virginia exports 70 percent of electricity produced and that there are 21 windfarm projects slated to begin studies in the state.
“AES said in their application that 6.1 miles of lines would have to be constructed,” Dodds said. “They (AES) say there will be minimal environmental damage.”
Dodds said that clear cutting for the wind turbines and a 35-foot wide gravel road will not allow for regrowth.
“With no tree canopy, it will allow greater quantities of water to run off that will affect our head waters and create flooding,” Dodds said.
Others opposed to the project also spoke about the affect it would have on bats, tourism and the willingness of people to relocate to the area.
“We chose Elkins as our retirement home and one of the reasons is the beautiful view sheds,” Erika Stokes of Elkins said. “The windmills pose a dangerous threat to the ecology of the area and they will hurt tourism.”
Stokes said the mountains and forest are the safeguard for the watersheds and that they bring tourism.
“I find it hard to believe that West Virginians keep putting up with this type of exploitation,” Stokes said.
John Lansbury of Beverly is in favor of the wind farm project saying that energy is becoming expensive and demand is rising.
“I followed the debate,” Lansbury said. “Enough studies have been done.”
David Mullinex of Elkins, Andy Swecker of Mill Creek and William Messel of Elkins all agreed with Lansbury in support of the project.
“We need to use all of our resources to produce as much electricity as possible for the future,” Messel said.
Mullinex said, “Wind energy is not perfect, but we need to do this to advance the technology. We need to learn how to use wind power.”
Rich Depp of Dailey, a forester, is also on support of the project.
“These should not be everywhere. The United States needs alternative energy. It will not solve everything, but it is a piece of the puzzle,” Depp said. “Why shouldn’t we do our part to solve the problem? We have plenty of pristine mountains.”
After the meeting Charlie Falter, AES managing director, told The Inter-Mountain that the hearing “is an important part of the process. I was very encouraged by the amount of support for the project.”
By Anthony Gaynor
8 May 2008
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