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Wind-farm showdown - Opponents dominate first day of hearings in Highland County

MONTEREY -- Frustrated by their local government, opponents of a plan for an industrial-scale wind farm on Highland County ridge tops pleaded their case to a panel from Richmond.

Those opposed to the 19 giant wind turbines dominated the speakers list at public hearings conducted yesterday by the State Corporation Commission -- just as they did for local hearings last year. One respected lifelong resident spoke fervently in favor of the proposal.

Landowner Henry T. McBride of Harrisonburg has asked the commission for permission to build a wind farm on 4,300-foot-high mountaintop property he owns in western Highland County.

His firm, Highland New Wind Development, would use 400-foot-tall wind turbines to generate as much as 38 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power as many as 20,000 homes.

About 70 people attended the start of the hearings inside the Highland Elementary School gym. The three SCC panel members asked questions of only a few speakers, inquiring about their areas of expertise and for sources of information they were citing.

As was the case during more informal hearings last year, most who testified under oath spoke against the proposal, which opponents believe would mar the county's undeveloped landscape.

"It could have some benefits, but the negative impacts... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Those opposed to the 19 giant wind turbines dominated the speakers list at public hearings conducted yesterday by the State Corporation Commission -- just as they did for local hearings last year. One respected lifelong resident spoke fervently in favor of the proposal.
 
Landowner Henry T. McBride of Harrisonburg has asked the commission for permission to build a wind farm on 4,300-foot-high mountaintop property he owns in western Highland County.
 
His firm, Highland New Wind Development, would use 400-foot-tall wind turbines to generate as much as 38 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power as many as 20,000 homes.
 
About 70 people attended the start of the hearings inside the Highland Elementary School gym. The three SCC panel members asked questions of only a few speakers, inquiring about their areas of expertise and for sources of information they were citing.
 
As was the case during more informal hearings last year, most who testified under oath spoke against the proposal, which opponents believe would mar the county's undeveloped landscape.
 
"It could have some benefits, but the negative impacts would far exceed whatever benefits we have to gain," Sandy Hevener of Bluegrass told the panel.
 
Last year, the county Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 to grant Highland New Wind a conditional-use permit to erect the windmills. The majority voted in the face of overwhelming opposition among those who showed up to speak on the proposal at two public hearings.
 
One supervisor and the proposal's handful of outspoken opponents cite $175,000 in annual taxes and fees that the wind-generated power station would bring in for a county that's pressed for revenue sources. Board members are loath to raise property taxes on a county with numerous retirees who can ill afford higher levies.
 
But opponents argue that those revenue sources are uncertain. And if built, the development could open many more of the county's ridge tops to turbine sites.
 
Highland New Wind's plant would be he first wind-generated power station in Virginia. The development could open the rest of the state to more unwanted turbine sites, opponents said.
 
Highland native and retired cattle farmer Jacob Hevener is undaunted by such prospects, though.
 
He rents all 1,000 acres he owns in the Hightown area, and soaring property values take up in taxes almost everything he earns in rent, said Hevener, who is a third cousin to Sandy Hevener's husband.
 
Hevener said outside the hearing that if the county has to raise taxes, retired property owners like him will suffer.
 
"If taxes go up any more, we'll have to raise the rent," said Hevener, 81. "If you raise the rent, nobody's going to want to rent."
 
The last two SCC hearings are scheduled for today at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the gym. Evidence-based hearings on Highland New Wind's application will be held in Richmond at a date yet to be determined.


Source: http://www.timesdispatch.co...

MAR 15 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1688-wind-farm-showdown-opponents-dominate-first-day-of-hearings-in-highland-county
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