Those attending the two-day symposium on wind energy in Virginia recently might have walked away believing this state has already accepted this industry, and that the proposed utility in Highland County has paved the way for more plants.
As it has from its inception, the Virginia Wind Energy Collaborative based at James Madison University, which coordinated the series of seminars, failed to adequately address the very real concerns about industrial wind power with any sense of balance.
Virginia Wind, the grassroots effort of Highland resident Rick Webb and his partner Dan Boone, both well-respected experts on the issues nationwide, attempted to point out the slate of symposium speakers left much to be desired.
Webb and Boone are often characterized as thorns in the sides of wind power officials, and because of their persistent attempts to educate the rest of us on the disadvantages and environmental effects from commercial wind generation, they are misrepresented and dismissed by those who promote these utilities. But the increasing respect they receive across the country and the number of times Virginia Wind’s conclusions are called into question leads us to believe the industry doth protest too much.
Those hoping to capitalize on the tax credits, double-digit declining depreciation, renewable portfolio standards and other “perks” that make building wind turbines a lucrative business have used every possible tactic to make naysayers look like whining NIMBYs who just don’t want to look at these behemoths in their view shed.
But as many symposium speakers noted, correctly, there’s much about the industry that remains uncertain, and blanket acceptance of turbine towers is foolish.
While wind proponents play upon our national fears of global warming and rising gas prices, Webb, Boone, and many like them have ferreted out the facts, and have proven many times over there is no reason to place these 400-foot towers with their considerable footprints in the Appalachian Mountain chain. It does not make sense financially, ecologically, environmentally, or otherwise.
Highland New Wind Development this week told county supervisors it has not yet secured financial investors for the 39-megawatt utility planned for Allegheny Mountain, and finding the equipment has become a challenge. The company hopes to have an investor in place by the end of summer. But as supervisors rightly point out, getting final approvals and permits depend on having a finished site plan, and that plan cannot be developed until the equipment is secured. By September, HNWD will have only 12 months left to meet all the conditions attached to its state and county permits, secure a building permit, and get turbines up and running before federal tax credits expire in 2009. It’s a tight schedule, and our elected officials want plenty of time to review the project’s design and decide whether the conditions have been effectively met before issuing a building permit.
How this all unfolds in the coming months remains to be seen, but there are plenty of Highland residents with enough concerns about doing this right to predict just reviewing the company’s each move is paramount.
What it boils down to, though, is that HNWD’s project has not paved the way for more wind utilities in Virginia. If anything, the state precedents set for this project and others to follow are likely to make investors far more cautious. Many, we suspect, will prefer to invest in utilities where far fewer obstacles stand in the way. Those opposed to erecting these towers in the ecologically sensitive eastern mountains are finally being heard. Their warnings about inviting a proliferation of wind utilities here, where they will produce little electricity, drive up electric bills, and damage wildlife habitat are sinking in. Taxpayer-funded symposiums that do so little to provide balance to this complicated issue are a diversion. The bottom line is, wind energy based on the East Coast, unless it’s offshore, is a waste of our money and time.
3 July 2008
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