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It’s better when the wind turbines are still

I recently attended the open house at the new AES Laurel Mountain wind farm that straddles the border between Randolph and Barbour counties in West Virginia.

Before a short tour of this wind turbine facility that began generating electricity in July, there was welcoming talk by the wind farm’s general manager, John Arose, followed by a question and answer session.

Frank O’Hara, from the watchdog citizens organization Allegheny Front Alliance, asked about a rumored bird kill of between 500 and 600 birds at the AES location. Mr. Arose confirmed that a bird kill had indeed occurred but didn’t share any other details except that AES Laurel Mountain was cooperating with the investigating authorities.

Further inquiry indicates that, rather than the large raptors usually associated with bird deaths at wind farms, the birds killed at Laurel Mountain were blackpole warblers on their fall migration to South America.

I believe that this may qualify as the largest documented kill of its kind associated with a wind turbine facility. It would be another first for West Virginia which is nationally known for the thousands of bats killed at the Tucker County, Mountaineer facility on Backbone Mountain.

With the Pinnacle wind farm nearly ready to begin spinning in Keyser, and the AES New Creek wind project beginning construction a few miles away, one wonders what unintended consequence will occur next?

The Allegheny Highlands are not a suitable location for industrial wind power. Government wind maps show only the highest ridges in very few locations having ratings of No. 3 (fair) to No. 4 (good) on a scale that goes to No. 7 (superior).

Think of the blue sky/white turbine pictures you’ve seen in the ads. Those photos are never in mountains like ours for good reason. Observations of the operation of the wind turbines at AES Laurel Mountain seems to illustrate the poorness of the wind resource.

Anyone from Elkins can tell you that there are many days when several of the 61 turbines are still. Oddly, the case is often that three or four turbines in a row will be turning while others will have been randomly turned out of the wind. Some days, by contrast, almost all may have been placed into service.

Yesterday, on a drive to town, half the turbines were idle and the one, out my window at home, spun for three minutes around noon and again for an hour and 55 minutes before being turned off again at 5:51 p.m.

Why should we care, as precious little of the wind generated electricity is consumed in West Virginia and Western Maryland? It might be because a project like AES Laurel Mountain is enabled by your taxes.

In this case 30 percent or $72 million of the cost of the wind farm was provided as a cash grant (not a loan) from the federal government. States contribute to this delinquency by setting “renewable portfolio standards” with little more than good intentions as justification. Perhaps you might want to see a better return on such a large investment.

As for me, I’m happy to see your dollars go to waste because when the air is still, the constant drone of the turbines, like a distant, endless freight train, is absent and the hills are, at least for a moment, quiet once more and the birds fly free in safety.

John Terry

Montrose, W.Va.