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State agencies get weight on their shoulders

No matter how much tax revenue the utility might add to county coffers, money cannot replace the hard-to-quantify scenic landscapes and cumulative effects of such projects in the Appalachian highlands.

It’s hard to recall the last time a room full of state bureaucrats sounded so intelligent as they did Monday in a pre-application meeting for Highland New Wind Development. But then, these weren’t necessarily bureaucrats. They were, at heart, scientists — scientists who happen to work for the state of Virginia. It was alphabet soup on the surface (DEQ, SCC, DGIF, DHR, DCR, DMME) but there was no doubt about the depth of knowledge behind the resumes packed with expertise and on-the-ground experience that came to the table.

HNWD requested the meeting to find out what kinds of issues it must address in its application for a certificate from the SCC to install a 38-megawatt industrial wind utility here in Highland, and came away with plenty of homework.

As the company’s attorney John Flora expressed his belief that HNWD had pretty much gathered most of what it needed, state officials from these agencies made it clear they’d be looking for much more. Their shopping list included: A visual impact study, perhaps with computer-generated viewshed simulations; precise maps showing all potential historic or scenic sites and resources that could be affected by the 400-foot turbines on a... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

It’s hard to recall the last time a room full of state bureaucrats sounded so intelligent as they did Monday in a pre-application meeting for Highland New Wind Development. But then, these weren’t necessarily bureaucrats. They were, at heart, scientists — scientists who happen to work for the state of Virginia. It was alphabet soup on the surface (DEQ, SCC, DGIF, DHR, DCR, DMME) but there was no doubt about the depth of knowledge behind the resumes packed with expertise and on-the-ground experience that came to the table.

HNWD requested the meeting to find out what kinds of issues it must address in its application for a certificate from the SCC to install a 38-megawatt industrial wind utility here in Highland, and came away with plenty of homework.

As the company’s attorney John Flora expressed his belief that HNWD had pretty much gathered most of what it needed, state officials from these agencies made it clear they’d be looking for much more. Their shopping list included: A visual impact study, perhaps with computer-generated viewshed simulations; precise maps showing all potential historic or scenic sites and resources that could be affected by the 400-foot turbines on a 4,000 foot mountain; and complete environmental assessments of wildlife impacts.

These are the kinds of things those opposed to the project are most concerned about. No matter how much tax revenue the utility might add to county coffers, money cannot replace the hard-to-quantify scenic landscapes and cumulative effects of such projects in the Appalachian highlands. This is the place where business interests so often butt heads with environmental interests, and in this case, it’s these state researchers and scientists who will determine how a balance may or may not be struck.

It was encouraging the state officials knew so much about the project. It was clear they’d been doing some homework, too, and were taking their jobs very seriously. They understand this could be the first of many commercial wind plants in their state, and are keenly aware of the precedent-setting decisions before them. It appears they want to do this right.

The absence of turf scuffling from this first meeting was equally striking. From the state agencies, there were no disagreements about which department was in charge of what issue. None expressed a desire to negotiate about inter-agency responsibilities. No one argued about which study or review was more important. Not a single program manager or director seemed to lean toward smoothing the way for the project, nor did they seem likely to toss irrelevant obstacles in its path. Not a single buck was passed.

Also interesting were the issues HNWD did not address in its power point presentation to the group. Flora and owners Mac and Tal McBride offered their information solely from a developer’s perspective. They didn’t mention any opposition until it came up at the end of the meeting. No word about the lawsuits faced by Highland County in which the company is named. They didn’t tell them about Tom Brody and Patti Reum’s environmental education retreat business that would likely fold under the shadows of the spinning blades and flashing lights. They mentioned Tucker County, W.Va.’s wind plant was drawing tourists, but failed to mention that Highland’s chamber of commerce director believes the project will be detrimental to tourism here. And they also omitted the reams of research refuting nearly every aspect of the wind energy industry’s claims.

But that’s OK. We’re optimistic now these state agencies can give HNWD’s application an objective and thorough review and the scientists will see spin for what it is. The state appears to have time on its side, and the authority to request all matter of information on wind energy. We hope they ask us. Highlanders have written the book on this topic. Virginia’s most rural county is depending on them to seek the best, most objective analyses they can find.


Source: http://www.vawind.org/Asset...

SEP 16 2005
http://www.windaction.org/posts/238-state-agencies-get-weight-on-their-shoulders
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