“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” I was reminded of my college adviser’s mantra upon the Roanoke Sierra Club executive committee’s recent vote to conditionally approve the Poor Mountain Industrial Wind Plant. A request for review to the state chapter president has resulted in no relief. My concerns are both procedural and substantive, in that local member voices opposing the turbines were stifled, the endorsement is without scientific support, and local Sierra’s Oct. 13 press release is without foundation.
The executive committee’s 4-2 vote in favor of the industrial wind turbines was just that – a vote of four. There was no effort to solicit the views of the local Sierra membership (about 750) in the months preceding the vote.
The only open forum on wind energy in which the collective will could be assessed was a monthly gathering set for June, but that one opportunity was canceled. Both the September and October meetings were acrimonious, and efforts at civil discourse were stifled.
The actual vote on Oct. 12 was a formality, sandwiched between new business and discussion of Explore Park. While recognizing the urgency of creating solutions to our worldwide environmental crisis, I question the rush to judgment in this instance.
National Sierra Club’s published policy favors wind as an energy alternative where there is site-specific approval, which has not yet been undertaken at the Poor Mountain site. There are no scientific evaluations, required under the permitting process, of fragile biological communities that exist in the cove between two proposed ridges. The headwaters of Bottom Creek, a protected Tier III stream, begin on the steep slopes of Poor Mountain’s convoluted ridges, with Bottom Creek on one side and Big Laurel Creek on the other. Eighteen 443-foot towers will require considerable berth and excavation for road development and tower foundations.
Known species of concern in the area include broadwinged hawks, orangefin madtom and Roanoke logperch, and the monarch butterfly. Brook trout, game, songbirds and bats abide here. Sugar maple, hemlock and American chestnut trees survive here. The executive committee’s site visit with Invenergy’s developer and architect does not remotely pass as site-specific approval.
The only purpose of a pre-study endorsement – “conditional” or not – would be to influence or bias the scientific process in favor of approval. Agencies responsible for site evaluation are less likely to conduct a rigorous review if the environmental watchdogs are napping. (Recall recent news of the Chesapeake golf course built on coal ash next to a residential subdivision.) Significantly, the Nature Conservancy is reserving comment on the proposal until such studies are completed.
Substantively, I take issue with Sierra’s advertisement that Invenergy’s industrial wind plant will power 10,000 homes. Note this is up from Invenergy’s estimate of 8,000 in March. Ten thousand homes is a gross overstatement in light of the marginal and inconsistent wind activity in the Appalachians.
Rick Webb, an environmental scientist at the University of Virginia, explains that comparisons based on the annual amount of electricity generation ignore the wide variability of wind energy production. With per capita consumption in Virginia averaging 2.54 people per household, the homes served would be about 3,000 annually, fewer than 1,000 during the low-wind, high-demand month of August and zero on any day with no wind. No power will be supplied directly to local homes or businesses; any electricity generated will enter Appalachian Power’s national grid.
That the wind plant “has the potential to reduce 98,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off local roads” is misleading. Let’s first clarify that this wind plant won’t relieve local traffic, and 98,000 tons is meaningless without reference to the type of power plant it would offset and how much carbon per kilowatt hour would have been emitted by such a plant.
Environmental organizations are charged with checking the energy industry’s calculations to protect us from a Trojan horse – a behemoth turbine project that wreaks environmental, personal and financial havoc on the community, provides production subsidies and massive profits to Invenergy, but delivers minimal wind power. It is very difficult to tell good offsets from bad in a lucrative and exploding carbon trading industry.
In her plea for premature endorsement of this site, one member stated how badly she wanted Roanoke’s Sierra Club to be relevant to this industrial wind development. No doubt we are relevant. We would do better by becoming informed.
Roberta Motherway Bondurant
Bondurant, of Bent Mountain, is a member of the Roanoke Group of the Sierra Club.
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