Benefits, problems of wind turbines debated; Formal application to place structures on Great North Mountain not yet filed
One thing going for proponents of wind energy is that Interstate 81 appears to remain environmental enemy No. 1 in Shenandoah County.
A round of applause from the audience of about 175 people rang out Tuesday night when someone referenced the problem of interstate noise at a Shenandoah Forum event at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School. The topic, though, was wind energy, specifically a proposal to construct 131 wind turbines along the county’s western ridgelines in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.
Members representing both sides of the issue spoke about the pros and cons of wind energy as a whole, but for the audience what mattered most was FreedomWorks LLC’s plan to build 440-foot turbines on Great North Mountain. A formal application has yet to be made, as the U.S. Forest Service is screening the proposal, said David Carr, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Frank Maisano, who represents several wind developers nationwide, said the mountain has good transmission capacity, an automatic attraction for wind developers. However, many questions, such as where the turbines would be built and what impact they would have on the environment and wildlife, cannot be answered without further study, he said. If FreedomWorks passes the initial screening, about a year of meteorological testing will be conducted.
“[The environment] is a factor that wind developers put at the top of their list,” Maisano said.
On the other side of the debate was Dan Boone, a professional ecologist and natural resources policy analyst. Among the problems the area could face as a result of the project are the killing of bats and birds – over 4,000 died in collisions with 44 turbines in West Virginia in 2003 – and difficulty sleeping for people living close to the noisy devices.
The best thing for companies like FreedomWorks is to pursue wind projects near the Chesapeake Bay or Atlantic Ocean, where the strongest wind in Virginia is available, Boone said.
“It’s more expensive to develop,” he said, “but a lot better wind quality.”
As they did on most matters Tuesday, Maisano and Boone differed on the topic of offshore wind projects, with Maisano saying the technology involved is still being sought. They also disagreed on the issue of federal tax credits available to wind developers and the cost of electricity provided by turbines, among other topics at the forum, which lasted more than two hours.
What they could agree on is that the conversation about the wind project potentially in county residents’ backyard is just getting started.
“We ought not to cross off public lands just because they are public lands,” Maisano said. “There are plenty of areas inside that forest that are pristine and never will be touched.”
By Preston Knight – Daily Staff Writer
18 June 2008
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