KEYSER – After listening to proponents and opponents of wind power for approximately two hours, the Mineral County Commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to approve U.S. Wind Force’s recommendation to hire G.L. Garrad
Hassan to perform a required decommissioning study on the Pinnacle Wind Farm.
Commission President Wayne Spiggle was the lone vote against the recommendation.
The decommissioning study is a requirement of U.S. Wind Force’s permit process through the West Virginia Public Service Commission. The purpose of the study is to determine the details of decommissioning, or dismantling, the wind farm should it exceed its useful life. One important component of the study is the determination of how much money should be set aside in escrow to help cover the cost of decommissioning should the company abandon the project.
Although Dave Friend and John Cookman of U.S. Wind Force both told the commissioners that county government is actually the “fourth in line,” with the project owner, financial institutions, and property owners ahead of the commissioners in terms of responsibility for dismantling the turbines and reclaiming the land, the commissioners have taken their call to protect the rights of the county citizens very seriously as they have scrutinized the issue and asked many questions over the past months.
Tuesday, however, even they seemed weary of the drawn-out discussion as they heard several speakers launch into the debate, only to veer off on several side issues, including the affect the massive wind turbines would have on migratory birds and other wildlife and whether wind is a viable source of energy for the future.
At one point, Commissioner Cindy Pyles sternly reminded the crowd, and Spiggle, “We’re here to discuss decommissioning.”
One major sticking point which has divided the commissioners on the issue was the reputability of both Hassan and a second company that had apparently expressed interest in being considered for the study.
Spiggle had said during an earlier meeting that he felt the second company should be given the opportunity to bid on the project. Frank O’Hara, co-chairman of the Allegheny Front Alliance, which has been a very vocal opposition to the Pinnacle Wind Farm, agreed.
Tuesday, however, Friend said he had done some research on the second company, and “a serious concern popped up.
“They are anti-wind advocates and we are uncomfortable with that,” he said.
At one point, Spiggle countered that, “just because they were hired by an anti-wind group doesn’t make them opposed to wind.”
“Well, I’ve done my own research, and talked with the commissioners of the other counties who have used Garrad Hassan, and they highly recommend them,” Pyles said.
Hassan has performed decommissioning studies for Barbour and Randolph counties, among others in other states.
After reading a development plan for another project, Commissioner Janice LaRue noted that “it’s not clearly defined” what decommissioning would involve, and expressed her desire to have each task to be performed as part of the decommissioning process to be spelled out clearly for the commission.
Friend noted, however, that much of that would be included in the lease agreements with the three property owners (Allegheny Holding Company, NewPage, and Gary Wilson) and that he would not release the details of the leases.
County Coordinator Mike Bland suggested that the decommissioning plan “should include everything that is not included in the leases.”
Property owner Gary Wilson assured the commissioners, however, that “the language is in the leases” and that he is satisfied with the details of the project.
O’Hara, however, urged the commissioners to take their time in making a decision on the hiring of the company.
“A rush to judgement on this topic is in the best interest of U.S. Wind Force and not in the best and long-term interest to the citizens of Mineral County community,” he said.
“The consequences of an ill-conceived plan will be financially and environmentally disastrous for future generations.”
It was at that time that the discussion took another turn – toward the construction workers who stand to get jobs when construction of the wind farm begins. Many of them were in the commission room on Tuesday.
“(The project) has already been approved,” LaRue said. “We need to move now and get these people to work.”
According to Polly Jo Hightower, some of the county’s workers have already benefitted from the local wind power projects, including those in nearby Grant and Garrett counties.
“The wind projects have provided steady employment to our heavy equipment operators and new training programs that have given employment to our instructors and created careers for our citizens in the wind industry,” she said.
“Let us not forget that they may well become the largest taxpayer in our county.”
Speaker Ginny O’Connor was a bit more emphatic with her plea to the commissioners:
“I just want to get the damn thing started,” she said.
Pyles made the motion to approve Garrad Hassan, and LaRue seconded it.
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