KEYSER – Mineral County Commissioners once again heard from both sides of the wind farm issue as they gathered information this week in regard to the independent consultant required to conduct a study of what it would take to decommission – or dismantle – the turbines at Pinnacle Wind Farm once they have outlived their usefulness.
The requirement was included in the state stipulations to guard against the abandonment of wind turbines once a wind farm has stopped operation and the possible resultant graveyard of useless hundred-feet-high pieces of scrap metal.
In its approval of U.S. Windforce’s proposed 23-turbine wind farm to be located along the Pinnacle ridgeline above Keyser, the West Virginia Public Service Commission therefore directed that Wind Force hire an independent consultant to study the eventual decommissioning of the turbines, and subsequently set aside an escrow account to cover the cost of the entire decommissioning process.
The study – and the resultant escrow account – are to be updated every five years to take into consideration changes in both the cost of the work and the value of the scrap material, and both the consultant and the study must receive approval from the county commission.
Tuesday, Dave Friend and Jim Cookman of U.S. Wind Force appeared before the county commissioners to seek their approval of G.L. Garrad Hassan, a renewable energy consultant firm which Friend said has done consultant work for Barbour and
Randolph counties in West Virginia.
“They met with the approval of the county commissions there,” he added.
In discussing the issue, the commissioners asked a number of questions about the decommissioning plan, which Friend explained was actually a four-level process which gives the project owner the first responsibility of decommissioning, followed by the banks that have provided funding for the project and the land owner who has leased the property to the wind farm.
“The county commission is actually fourth in line, just in case all these levels fail,” Friend said.
When asked by County Commission President Wayne Spiggle if the plan allowed for land reclamation or reforestation, Friend replied that he felt, assuming the life of the wind farm would be at least 20 years, reforestation would occur naturally.
“In that time, the trees would have grown back up significantly,” he said.
Reclamation of the land was a big issue on the minds of the several members of the Allegheny Front Alliance who were also present for Tuesday’s commission meeting.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Frank O’Hara took note of the historical and cultural importance of the ridgeline upon which U.S. Wind Force will build its wind farm.
“AFA hopes this unique biological, ecological, geological, cultural and historical landscape will be returned to a condition we now appreciate,” he said.
O’hara also told the commissioners that the decommission agreement is a critical decision for the county commission to make, and that it will “affect Mineral County residents for almost a quarter of a century.
“An effective dismantling and removal plan will assure that the county residents’ health, safety and welfare are protected. It assures the land and landscapes will be restored.”
Commissioner Janice LaRue assured O’Hara that “it’s our plan to check out all the possibilities and do this right the first time.”
Resident and AFA member Greg Trainer told the officials, “We need development in Mineral County, but we just need to make sure it’s not going to make a mess. West Virginia has a history of leaving things behind.”
With those comments in mind, Spiggle said he had been contacted by another company which does the same type of consultant work, and he would “like to consider all qualified interested parties.”
Commissioner Cindy Pyles also said she would check with the commissioners of Barbour and Randolph counties to see if they were happy with the results of Hassan’s work.
The issue will be placed back on the agenda for the next commission meeting.
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