Community wind: County agency asked to develop policy for projects where local ownership plays a major role
LEWISBURG – A local, tri-county development agency has been asked by the Appalachian Regional Commission to develop a policy that could be used regionwide for community wind projects.
In the publication “Community Wind 101: A Primer for Policymakers,” author Patrick Mazza writes, “Community wind in its most essential definition is wind development in which local ownership plays a major role. It encompasses a broad range of formats, from private partnerships among rural landowners, to projects by consumer-owned utilities, schools and native tribes, to collaborative structures that engage outside organizations but leave local owners with significant returns.”
Projects can range in size from a single turbine to a community-owned, commercial-scale wind farm, notes Mazza, a research director with The Energy Foundation.
Steve Weir, executive director of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, in recent weeks has made presentations regarding the study now under way to governing bodies in each of the three counties his agency serves.
He emphasized to the Greenbrier County Commission Tuesday evening, “We’re not talking about any specific project.”
He said the ARC grant-funded endeavor is designed to develop the outline of a practical policy that can be implemented by any government unit in the Appalachian region.
That policy would touch on such areas as infrastructure requirements, contracts with power companies to use the energy generated by the wind project and property tax implications arising from the development of such a project.
According to Rita Gale Cruise, project manager with Natural Capital Investment Fund’s Beckley office, which is working with the GVEDC to develop a policy for the ARC, West Virginia has the 13th highest availability of potential wind energy in the nation.
“At this point, we are looking for feedback from the county commissions in the area about what they’d like to see in the policy,” she noted.
When Weir and Cruise visited the Monroe County Commission earlier this month, both Commissioner Clyde Gum Jr. and Commission President Shane Ashley expressed an interest in hosting a public forum to allow county residents to offer their input and receive information on this process.
“We need to be sure we’re protecting our people,” Ashley said. “I’m all for letting the wind flow, but let’s not hurt anybody along the way.”
In a later telephone interview, Weir said community meetings are very much a part of the study the GVEDC is conducting before formulating the policy manual.
“We know we’re going to hear the pluses and minuses of this type of energy project,” he said. “We’re not going to shy away from people’s opinions; we want to listen.”
He said the informational sessions will probably be held in the fall in each GVEDC county – Greenbrier, Monroe and Pocahontas. He said he hopes to wrap up this portion of the process as early as possible. The entire project, which began May 1, is expected to take about a year to complete.
“ARC wants to see an adopted policy through the three counties we represent,” Weir said. “The county commissions will decide how to approach it – whether individually through a comprehensive plan, for example, or as a group. They could ask (the GVEDC) to set a wind energy policy for all three counties; we’re going to look at that possibility.”
While other jurisdictions have general policies in place, the ARC-funded study that the GVEDC is conducting is focused on two main goals, Weir said.
“We are trying to tailor a policy specifically to the Appalachian region, and we want to reduce that policy to a manual form that can be used anywhere in the region,” he explained.
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