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Wind project seeking investors, securing permits  

Highland New Wind Development is stepping up its search for investors, with plans to attend some regional conferences and meetings with potential backers in the next couple of months.

HNWD will need financial support for its proposed 39-megawatt wind energy utility, expected to cost upwards of $60 million to construct. The company also needs to secure several permits and other state and federal approvals before it can build.

Attorney John Flora, representing HNWD, told Highland supervisors Tuesday the only permit HNWD worked on the past month was an entrance permit from the Virginia Department of Transportation. VDOT entrance permits have been obtained, but the final application for VDOT needs to be submitted before it can be crossed off the list, he said.

VDOT’s Verona resident engineer Jim White told The Recorder this week that one of the entrances should be simple to construct; the other might require more work and earth-moving.

According to Flora, there has also been a little turf war between PJM and Allegheny Power over control of the substation the facility would feed. A colleague in Minnesota has been working with Allegheny Power, and Flora said he expected to have those contracts signed with Allegheny Power in the next couple of weeks. “My understanding is that (substation and infrastructure) will be in place by June 1, 2009,” he said.

Next month, Flora, plus HNWD owners H.T. McBride and his son, Tal, will attend the 2008 Wind Power Seminar in Houston, Texas. “We are going to learn a lot and a lot of business is conducted there,” said Flora.

“Ten days before that meeting we are having two days of meetings in Washington to meet with a number of interested parties we are talking to, and hopefully we might come close to wrapping something up in Houston,” said Flora.

“We might need a longer time slot in July (to update supervisors on the project),” he told the board.

Supervisor Robin Sullenberger, Shenandoah Valley Partnership CEO, said he’s getting several inquiries about purchasing wind power through his Harrisonburg office.”Companies, in one case large plant operations, are making inquiries about powering their facilities with whatever renewables, have asked about contacting wind power producers. Should that come to you?” he asked Flora.

Flora agreed to field the questions. “That’s important as we look to the power purchase agreement, which is likely to be Dominion, but it might not be. That there are interested parties in the western part of the state; that’s of interest to a Dominion or Dominion Rural Electric.” Flora told Sullenberger anyone asking about purchasing HNWD’s power should be directed to him.

Supervisor Jerry Rexrode said Highland County is very interested in purchasing power from sites within the county. “We would like to have first dibs if at all possible,” he said.

Supervisor David Blanchard asked Flora, “Some of the permits are going to require a site plan. What’s the progress on that?”

Flora said, “The remaining four permits on our list all are subject to a final site plan. What holds up the site plan is turbine selection. What holds up turbine selection is the decision as to which financial partner we end up selecting. Turbines are still the biggest issue in terms of availability and what really fitsup there. There are a lot of choices, a lot of options, but they are not readily available because the market is busy and some of the bigger players had the foresight to buy all the available turbines in 2008-09. There are still some out there, but you have to talk to the right party at the right time. That’s what’s holding us up. We hope to have that wrapped up by early June … Bigger companies have enough leverage to findsome turbines for our project, which is not that large.”

Flora said HNWD needs four remaining permits, for: Erosion and sediment control; storm water management; one from the Federal Aviation Administration, and a build- ing permit from Highland County.

“We don’t know exact height until we acquire the turbines,” said Flora, referring to the FAA permit.

A site plan is a condition attached to permits issued to HNWD, and something several state agencies have requested in order to complete reviews of the project plans. The Department of Environmental Quality says HNWD has asked that agency to distribute the site plan to all reviewing agencies when it’s complete.

Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation was one of the reviewing agencies, and in 2006, DCR’s Bob Munson and Lynn Crump provided comments on the preliminary site plan and photographs provided by HNWD, but had concluded there was not enough information to complete DCR’s review.

DCR requested HNWD provide a view shed analysis, showing the scenic impact of the 400-foot turbine towers on places like U.S. 250, U.S. 220, Laurel Fork, Sounding Knob, and the Highland Wildlife Management Area. DCR’s Division of Planning and Recreational Resources reviews all projects from a recreational and scenic perspective, and noted HNWD’s application to the State Corporation Commission did not address those. In February 2006, DCR said a view shed analysis of Laurel Fork, a potential scenic river, and Highland’s primary arteries, potential scenic byways, was necessary for the agency to complete its review.

So far, HNWD has not provided this analysis, Munson said Tuesday. “We have not heard from them, and we have not seen the results of any analysis,” he told The Recorder.

Munson explained DCR had recommended HNWD use the U.S. Forest Service’s “Landscape Aesthetics Scenery Management Process,” which is an accepted industry standard used to determine the sensitivity and importance of visual impacts, and can be used to figure out the best locations for the towers.

Munson explained that Crump had done a basic analysis, a map survey, but she had not gone to the site personally. “She didn’t go out there,” he said. “We had to take the top of the mountain, and add 400 feet (to analyze view shed), and that’s hard to do sitting at your desk.”

Munson said DCR still expects to get this analysis and the final site plan from HNWD. “That would be our hope,” he said, noting there are scenic considerations “very important to protect,” and a site plan and analysis “would be the only way to tell where the towers are and from what spots they’d be seen.”

Crump told The Recorder her agency can’t respond about the project until it’s requested to, and the SCC decision didn’t require much in the way of view shed analysis. “We might not ever get it,” she said. “There’s no regulatory process for that .. There’s no code that supports scenic protection … Usually, an applicant will abide by our comments, but they’re not required to.”

She said early on, HNWD had provided a few photo simulations to show view shed impacts, and what the towers would look like, but “as I recall, they were not from all the places we were concerned about. Most were photos from U.S. 220 north, but we were also concerned about U.S. 250, all the way from Head Waters. That’s a spectacular view, coming over those mountains … but I haven’t been out there, and I haven’t seen any good visual diagrams.”

Typically, she said, a developer will float balloons from a site and then take photographs from all angles to show visual impact, but HNWD has not done this, “and we can’t ask them to,” she said.

The SCC, Munson added, wouldn’t necessarily prevent the project from being constructed just because of its visual impacts, but the DCR could provide some recommendations for mitigating those impacts. What kinds of measures could be taken to reduce the impacts from 400-foot towers? He said he didn’t know.

Also, Highland officials have not asked for scenic status for U.S. 250, U.S. 220, and Laurel Fork. “Unfortunately, the way the SCC will read this, I think, is that because they haven’t asked (for these) to be recognized, it doesn’t count,” Munson said. “But I think everybody understands U.S. 250 is a very historic corridor. It is scenic, and it is historically significant.”

Munson said DCR is also concerned about mitigating the impacts to birds and bats along their migratory pathway over the project, and knows the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will address these issues.

“It is incumbent on the developer to come to us” at this point, Munson said. “We will withhold any approval until we get a view shed analysis, and we’re still expecting to hear from the developer. We certainly won’t sign off on the project until we get the analysis.”

If DCR can identify the potential impacts, he added, the agency will make recommendations for reducing them, with a degree of reasonableness.

As for Camp Allegheny, the Civil War encampment just over the border in West Virginia, near the project site, Munson said his counterparts in that state would probably want to get involved. “Unfortunately, we have a miserable record of working across state lines,” he said. “Our laws are not in effect over there, and their laws are not in effect over here, but we do try to collaborate. I don’t have a good working relationship (with the West Virginia agency) but I expect they would have a strong position about this and I hope their pursuing it.”

DCR, Crump said, will not ask HNWD for the information it still needs. “As far as I know, we can’t ask them for that,” she said. “They’re just supposed to do it. It has to be initiated by them.”

She said she expects her agency will notify the SCC if it does not receive the information, but that it doesn’t necessarily mean SCC will require HNWD to provide it. “The SCC might just say, go ahead. It depends on how the process unfolds … But this is a big concern, because this is the first one of many (wind energy utilities) that are likely to come along, and it really needs to be carefully thought through. Implementation needs to be done right.”

SCC’s Ken Schrad reiterated that the DEQ, which served as coordinating agency while HNWD’s application was under environmental review for a state permit, is no longer charged with that task. “Now that the certificateto construct and operate has been issued, the developer of the project has the burden of meeting any permitting requirements deemed necessary by the responsible agency – local or state – issuing such,” he said.

Schrad pointed to the SCC’s final order on the state certificate,which says, “Highland Wind shall comply with the conditions recommended in the DEQ’s report … (and) Highland Wind shall acquire all environmental and other approvals and permits necessary to construct and to operate the proposed wind energy facility and shall provide a complete list of said approvals and permits to the Director of the Commission’s Division of Energy Regulation prior to operation of the facility.”

HNWD did provide that list, and it does not include anything for the DCR.

“In the body of the order when addressing DEQ’s recommendations and other environmental approvals and permits,” Schrad added, “the SCC stated, ‘This requirement, however, does not direct the applicant to obtain specific permits or approvals if Highland Wind is not otherwise legally obligated to do so.'”

However, SCC had also rejected HNWD’s request for limitations or modifications to the requirements in DEQ’s report. The SCC’s order said, “We findthat requiring Highland Wind to comply with the … conditions recommended by DEQ is desirable or necessary to minimize adverse environmental impacts.”

These conditions include requirements for working with various agencies, including DCR, and adopting their recommendations.

By Anne Adams
Staff Writer

The Recorder

8 May 2008

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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