It’s astonishing to think that Highland County citizens have been debating the merits of wind energy for nearly nine years.
A lot has changed for the industry as a whole since we first learned about Mac McBride’s plan to install a 38-megawatt facility on Allegheny Mountain.
National policy about whether our tax dollars should be spent for wind development has not been settled. Virginia laws regarding proper permitting for these utilities has changed. New laws have been proposed, and killed in the General Assembly several times. East Coast developers are finding much stronger opposition along the Allegheny Front, and in other sensitive environments from coast lines to ridge tops.
What began here as an idea everyone initially thought was innocuous became a source of controversy quickly when our residents and landowners learned how much damage this project could do, and how little it would benefit them.
Under this national climate of wondering how best to take advantage of our own resources for energy, Highland County folks remain steadfast in their opinion that whether or not wind power is justifiably proven as a reliable, economically sound source of electricity, putting these proposed 18 towers in one of Virginia’s most ecologically sensitive areas makes no sense at all.
The damaging impacts to endangered species, wildlife habitat, view shed, historical resources, and property values are too much to bear. Highland New Wind Development, they believe, has made too many wrong turns and its plans are a mess. Its owners and representatives have consistently insulted our intelligence, and tested the patience of the officials who have tried to support them.
Had the company remained open and communicative instead of stubborn and argumentative, perhaps its turbine blades would be spinning by now.
But over and over, HNWD and its principals seem to have let their greed overtake good judgment. Over and over, they’ve shown disrespect for their mountain neighbors – in both Virginia and West Virginia – with attempts to pigeon-hole opposing views as NIMBY-based or naïve.
It’s really hard to believe, too, that after all this time, there remains a core group of residents and officials in two states prepared to protect their interests – in court, if they have to.
Last week, some of them reminded HNWD of that persistence. Citizens and groups represented by a high-powered environmental law firm with a proven track record sent a second letter to the company. They are still willing to work with HNWD to create a federally approved plan to protected endangered species, they told the firm. But they are prepared to file a complaint immediately if the company continues to ignore their position that HNWD secure a federal incidental take permit before it begins construction.
If HNWD does any construction, eliminating the possibility for improving site plans, we expect to see a lawsuit filed right away.
So far, HNWD has not responded to the notice of intent to sue. No one here is surprised; that’s typical form for this company.
What does surprise us is that Highland supervisors seem to be complacent about the idea the county would also be named in such a suit. We had hoped supervisors by now would have simply asked HNWD to obtain an ITP. We understand they believe they cannot require the company to do this, but we don’t understand why they couldn’t just ask.
So here we are. Another year has gone by. Winter has settled over the mountains. And we wait, again, to see whether HNWD can ever get its towers erected.
As has been the case for years, that continues to seem very unlikely. It’s a shame so much time and money has been wasted over this issue, but it appears that if HNWD won’t do the right thing, citizens are prepared to stay in the fight as long as it takes to make sure our county and its citizens are protected.
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