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Wind farming is not a panacea

The proposal by environmentalists for an alternative to strip mining no doubt was sincere.

A group of residents from the coalfields asked the Raleigh County Commission to support a proposed wind farm on Coal River Mountain.

They worry that their hills will be topped in the pursuit of the coal that is used to generate half of the electricity in the United States.

“I live in the west end of the county, which has been heavily impacted by coal mining,” Lorelei Scarbro of Rock Creek told the commission. “Our concern today is our homes, our environment and the sustainability of the environment.”

The concern over mountaintop mining is one that most people share. Extracting coal is dangerous, transporting coal is hard on the roads, and burning the coal to turn the turbines that generate the electricity is never going to be without some sort of air pollution.

However, wind power predates coal, and wind is still far from a practical and reliable source of energy.

If wind power were cheaper, electric companies would switch to it in a New York minute. Companies seek to keep costs down, and profits up. If Appalachian Power could replace its John Amos plant with a few windmills, it would.

One problem is reliability. The wind is not constant on Earth. The dog days of summer could stop the wind, just as air conditioners are clicking into overdrive.

And who said wind turbines are necessarily ecologically sound?

There have been numerous complaints about way too many birds and bats being killed by the spinning blades.

Even if the construction and maintenance costs were reduced, even if the birds-and-bats issue were solved, and even if large batteries were invented to allow storage of electricity for use when the wind dies down, there is the problem of covering mountains with turbines.

West Virginians have protested the location of cell-phone towers in the hills. Imagine the ruckus if this plan to erect 220 wind turbines on Coal River Mountain came to fruition.

Wind power is a good idea. The world has many good ideas. The task is to turn that good idea into reality.

Charleston Daily Mail Editorial

9 June 2008