Members of the Allegheny Highland Alliance and Allegheny Front Alliance say benefits of wind energy are few and far between.
Although wind energy production is increasing in the Mountain State, two groups argue that it might ultimately be detrimental.
Every energy source has its critics ranging from the oil and gas industry to the wind industry and although these sources have their benefits, there is a downside to the equation.
Wind, for example, has many benefits such as the fact that it is a renewable energy source. Also, according to the American Wind Energy Association, jobs – although many may be temporary – can be created as a result. States can also benefit economically from wind, according to AWEA.
Concerned citizens making up the groups Allegheny Highland Alliance, or AHA, and the Allegheny Front Alliance maintain that benefits of wind energy are sparse do not outweigh the costs, however.
When turbines became prevalent in his area, Larry Thomas, now the president of AHA, said he and other residents talked about forming a coalition.
“We decided to do some research on wind energy itself and to disseminate that information to other groups and to members of the Legislature to educate people on what’s going on,” he said.
To people like Thomas, wind farms’ proliferation represent a “daunting problem.”
One of Thomas’s main concerns deals with the turbines’ efficiency, or according to Thomas, the lack thereof. Turbines start producing electricity when the wind speed reaches approximately 7 mph and produce their maximum capacity around 36 mph, Thomas says.
Thomas added that the state rarely experiences sustained winds in this maximum range.
“Up to 20 percent of the time, industrial turbines produce no electricity,” he said. “You see that one megawatt of wind-generated electricity can supply electricity to approximately 240-300 houses per year. What it should state is that 1 megawatt of wind-generated electricity can supply electricity to approximately 240-300 houses per year 20 to 30 percent of the time, intermittently.”
The cleared area needed for the turbines is also a concern to the groups Using the AES Laurel Mountain project as an example, Thomas said that a completely forested mountaintop was “clear-cut” to accommodate the turbines.
“This causes forest fragmentation and all the animals that used to live there aren’t there anymore,” he said.
Sharing Thomas’s concern for environmental impacts are Art and Pam Dodds, both members of AHA. Pam also works as a geologist specializing in hydrogeology and Art meanwhile, studied aeronautical engineering and worked as an aeronautical cartographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Pam explained that trees intercept the rain and allow it to be absorbed more gently into the ground instead of gushing down the surface of the mountain. When a mountain ridge is deforested, rain isn’t intercepted and ends up flowing quickly down the side of the mountain, not penetrating the ground to recharge the groundwater, she added.
“The resulting greater amount of storm water flowing with increased velocities, destroys aquatic habitats on the ridges within the headwater areas of streams within the impacted watersheds,” she explained.
The Public Service Commission currently requires wind companies to obtain multiple permits for construction, one of which is the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for areas greater than 1 acre, Pam explains.
“The AES Laurel Mountain wind project drains 388 deforested acres,” she said. “DEP issued an NPDES permit to them, requiring only 35 sediment erosion control discharge point structures. We objected to this inadequate requirement, petitioning the case to the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board.”
The Dodds explained the EQB didn’t require any permit changes but they did, however, highlight deforested areas along the project where there are “multiple discharges to the same stream.”
“Whereas the sediment erosion control structure may be adequate to prevent sediment from the construction site from entering the stream, the increased quantity of velocity of the storm water entering the stream will cause downstream bank erosion and sedimentation,” they said.
The Dodds add that there are under drains beneath the constructed roadways but there is no control for sediment erosion.
Of much debate in the past has been the bird and bat population, which could be negatively affected by turbines. Art explained that the average bat lives between 25-30 years and don’t reproduce as quickly as some animals.
“Windmills actually attract bats because of their size and shape,” he said. The situation about bats is one that very few people understand because they’re not like mice where they have multiple litters a year. They don’t become sexually mature until a year and they usually only have one pup a year.”
However the Dodds do not recommend doing away with wind energy completely. Instead they recommend structural redesign.
“In our research, we’ve determined that if you change the windmill from a horizontal axis with a 280 foot diameter blade to a vertical axis with a 30-inch diameter spire, you have something that is no longer threatening to birds and bats,” Art said. The equipment necessary to operate it is at the bottom instead of the top and reduces the amount of structure needed so it doesn’t have to be as tall.”
Pam added that these turbines would operate successfully from 6 mph to 90 mph winds. The cost, she says is also significantly less because they operate without the need of computer controls and no adjustments are needed in operation, regardless of wind direction or velocity.
“These are turbines that can be used at the city or residential level and can be very effective in producing electricity for households or government buildings,” she said. “If you focused on using the residential small windmills, that would eliminate the environmental damage that goes on with these industrial-sized windmills.”
When John Terry, a member of AHA, retired to Randolph County, there were no turbines. Yet now, he says one is situated in plain view from his house.
Terry says his biggest concerns with the industry are jobs for the locals and decreasing property values.
“If I were coming to this piece of property and I knew that there would be wind turbines behind me, I wouldn’t have bought it,” he said. “There’s lots of people coming down here from the New York metro area but won’t come if they don’t like what they see.”
Terry says this is important because retirees relocating to the area will “more than equal” the amount of permanent jobs created by a wind farm.
Living in the community for a number of years, Terry watched the creation of the AES Laurel Mountain wind farm, and during this time, he says he never saw a local resident working on the project.
“They’re people who do this all the time,” he said. “I found lots of Texas license plates and Oklahoma plates. There is an influx of people who are experts in these fields. They’re not training local people because they’re gone within the next week.”
Although he admits that local businesses can see a brief increase in profits.
“There are local people making money, like the guy selling concrete or the guys driving the bulldozer,” he said. “But people working in the wind industry are from out of state and they’re in Oklahoma one day and West Virginia the next.” The wind industry can benefit from government subsidies and Terry worries about what will happen if that revenue source disappears.
“When that’s gone, the wind turbines are gone,” he said. “It’s a scary thought but I foresee the day when this phase will pass and wind turbines will still be standing there. You’ll see these tall structures rusting away after they leave.”
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