The Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition is promoting misleading rhetoric and industry spin regarding Invenergy LLC’s proposed industrial wind turbine development on Poor Mountain.
At 443 feet, each of the 18 proposed turbines would be more than 100 feet taller than the Wachovia tower – the tallest building in Roanoke. Extensive blasting, clear-cutting, road-building and construction would cause fragmentation, destruction and pollution of water and forestland not unlike that of mountaintop removal.
At the Mountaineer industrial wind turbine site in West Virginia, 40-plus forest acres were bulldozed flat, and 150-plus acres of forest interior destroyed to erect just eight turbines.
The Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition claims the proposed complex would “likely” have “negligible” impact on wildlife compared to that of “fossil fuels, tall buildings and house cats.” Following this same reasoning, a person could argue that carcinogens would likely have negligible impact on children because more children are lost to automobile accidents than to cancer.
Moreover, tall buildings don’t kill migrating bats, geese or swans, but turbines do. And cats kill backyard birds like chickadees, not the deep forest birds, migratory birds and raptors, such as hawks and eagles, found dead at the bottom of turbines.
When pressed, the organization avers that “an early wind project in California was poorly sited and resulted in excessive mortality for birds and bats.” This dodge implies the slaughter has ended. But it hasn’t. Rick Webb, in “NRC 2007 Report on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects,” warns that “wind projects on forested Appalachian ridges have the highest bird and bat fatalities documented worldwide.”
Poor Mountain is a migratory route and seasonal home for a diverse community of songbirds and raptors. Just last fall, local birdwatchers witnessed 2,700 broad-winged hawks flying directly over the proposed site in three hours. Bats, attracted to turbines in large numbers, die when their lungs hemorrhage due to sudden drops in air pressure. At the Mountaineer complex, nearly 2,000 bats – a critically threatened keystone species – were killed in just two months.
Another absurd claim is that since Poor Mountain has communications towers, there’s no harm in adding giant wind turbines. That’s like arguing that since your daughter already has a black eye, there’s no harm in breaking her neck.
The organization professes interest in “proper” siting, while the main siting criteria are wind currents, grid proximity and property availability: all ideal criteria for the multinational corporation. The coaltion’s criteria, based on Sierra Club guidelines, also address aesthetics, contradicting its assertion elsewhere that visual factors are highly subjective and therefore not pertinent.
The bulk of the Cool Cities Coalition talking points are based on “coal mining: bad; wind turbines: good.” This rhetorical trick is the fallacy of false choice, as in “it’s better to drink bleach than gasoline,” while neglecting alternatives, such as drinking water, whisky or nothing at all.
The coalition can’t prove “wind turbines: good,” for even Denmark, after intense wind development, reports no decrease in emissions or energy rates. So it has to stress “coal mining: bad,” resorting to crass emotional appeals about coal production harming “children and the elderly.”
Yes, mountaintop removal is truly awful. And so are industrial wind turbine developments, which neither slow nor stop coal production and cause serious known harms.
The coalition’s burden of proof is not to show that mining and burning coal is harmful; we know that already.
Rather, its burden of proof is, at the very least, to demonstrate that the proposed development will not harm the land, community and wildlife on Poor Mountain. Ideally, it would also prove the development would benefit anyone other than those who directly profit financially.
Clearly, the Cool Cities Coalition is manipulating numbers, cherry-picking facts and ignoring evidence – especially testimony from people whose lives have been destroyed. Shockingly high kill rates? “Negligible.” Monstrous industrial developments? “Relatively small.” Environmental impacts? “Mitigated by a nearby transmission line.”
Major concerns such as stray voltage, health and safety, and harm to pets and livestock are minimized, ridiculed, dismissed. And, while home-buyers across the nation steer clear of turbine-threatened properties, the coalition claims property values will increase.
These transparent tactics raise disturbing questions. Why is an allegedly environmental, community-based organization parroting industry propaganda and promoting harmful industrial development in someone else’s community?
For if a poll were conducted today among the actual inhabitants – the bears, turkeys, deer, groundhogs, raptors, warblers, bats, butterflies, salamanders, frogs, turtles, trout, humans and other creatures who make their home on the mountain – there would be no debate. There would be no cost-benefit analysis, no greenwashing, no corporate propaganda.
The answer would be simple, clear, loud, and unanimous: The proposed industrial wind development should not be allowed on Poor Mountain.
White, a writer and Virginia native, lives in Copper Hill.
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