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Rural caucus discusses wind energy

HARRISONBURG – The Shenandoah Valley may be a prime spot for future wind utility development, according to a James Madison University professor.

Area lawmakers heard a presentation on Rockingham County’s potential for wind energy, in addition to talks about industrial hemp and broadband, during a regional rural caucus meeting Wednesday.

Jonathan Miles, professor and director of the Virginia Center for Wind Energy at JMU, spoke to about two dozen community and business leaders about the possibility and benefits of wind energy in the Valley.

Miles was one of the featured speakers during a Shenandoah Valley Go Virginia 8 and 9 regions caucus meeting at James Madison University. GO Virginia – the GO stands for growth and opportunity – is a coalition of business, educational and government groups aimed at increasing job and economic development opportunities through private and public sector collaboration locally, regionally and statewide.

“I think that this project, while it has been largely dormant for a period of time, may be seeing an opportunity for some revival,” Miles said.

In the last 10 years, Dominion Energy and Solaya Energy, a Stoneham, Mass.-based company that works with renewable-energy projects, have looked at the northwest part of the county, near Bergton and Criders, as a possible location for wind turbines, he said. Dominion Energy has since more aggressively pursued offshore wind energy, Miles said, and Solaya also abandoned the idea.

The commonwealth adopted a permitting process regarding wind energy, among the most arduous at the state level, Miles said.

But Virginia is still one of the few states that has yet to develop commercial wind.

“I’m here because I do believe that Rockingham County does offer characteristics unique among other rural, wind-endowed counties in Virginia,” Miles said. “We’ve got good wind resources here. We’ve got a strong and diverse economy and a base of consumers of electricity, particularly industrial, educational institutions and otherwise.”

Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, said most state lawmakers believe it’s important for Virginia to use all energy sources.

“I think if that site in Rockingham can really be promoted, maybe it’ll come about sooner rather than later,” Landes said. “It does take a big investment, especially with turbines and the towers. … But it sounds like it would be a good opportunity for Rockingham County and this part of the state.”

Sen Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said environmentally friendly energy sources are becoming more popular as technology becomes more cost-effective.

“But the wind is limited here,” Hanger said. “We have more possibility probably with solar. There are a lot of small installations of that, that have been worked on. Dominion is entering that market more aggressively now as well.”

Miles said the northwest part of the county could be viable and is more remote and open than people may realize. Wind energy would provide jobs during the turbines’ construction, but would only have about one permanent job per six to eight turbines for maintenance, Miles said.

The wind industry could also bring large educational and research benefits to the Shenandoah Valley.

Christy Morton, executive director of the Virginia Rural Center, said corporations are interested in clean energy and want to move to areas with these resources.

“Here in Virginia, here in the Valley, investing in those types of projects can have the potential to bring and attract some of those corporations … interested in clean and renewable energy,” she said. “So, it definitely has an economic development opportunity and benefit.”