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An open letter to Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach

Take us up on this offer and we believe you will come to understand why most Highlanders have reached the conclusion this proposal is more about profit for a very few people at taxpayers’ expense than a viable source of new energy, and that it will destroy much more than the views we now enjoy. It will lead to the destruction of our natural heritage which, as outlined in our comprehensive land use plans, is the foundation of our promising future.

Dear Sen. Wagner,

You asked this week what Highland County thinks about the proposal to construct a wind utility on one of its highest ridges. Your legislative proposal for a statewide energy plan has some merit, and we wish you luck debating its details in the General Assembly. But since it addresses renewable energy sources, you should see and hear for yourself what most of the 2,300 people of Virginia’s most rural county know and believe about the one “drop in a bucket” project that threatens their quality of life. You should understand that:


• Those opposed to these 400-foot towers on Allegheny Mountain are not the bleeding-heart liberals you characterize as environmentalists. In fact, the majority of voters here are conservative Republicans like you. They are independent, and determined to avoid government mandates that tell them what to do with their family farms and homes — especially when they are rarely asked to weigh in on how those laws are formed.

• Citizens here fully realize their lack of political and financial clout in Richmond. They have historically fought to remain economically viable despite state-level politicians who draft policies with little thought to the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Dear Sen. Wagner,

You asked this week what Highland County thinks about the proposal to construct a wind utility on one of its highest ridges. Your legislative proposal for a statewide energy plan has some merit, and we wish you luck debating its details in the General Assembly. But since it addresses renewable energy sources, you should see and hear for yourself what most of the 2,300 people of Virginia’s most rural county know and believe about the one “drop in a bucket” project that threatens their quality of life. You should understand that:


• Those opposed to these 400-foot towers on Allegheny Mountain are not the bleeding-heart liberals you characterize as environmentalists. In fact, the majority of voters here are conservative Republicans like you. They are independent, and determined to avoid government mandates that tell them what to do with their family farms and homes — especially when they are rarely asked to weigh in on how those laws are formed.

• Citizens here fully realize their lack of political and financial clout in Richmond. They have historically fought to remain economically viable despite state-level politicians who draft policies with little thought to the effect those policies have on this western-most part of Virginia. There are no major highways to fund, no urban centers to stabilize, and no industrial development. And most of us like it that way. In fact, we stay here in spite of the challenges, and come here to escape overpopulated centers like your home, Virginia Beach.

• It would be easy to characterize Highlanders as NIMBYists when you use us as an example of why energy policy is necessary. But we cannot be pigeonholed by the use of that term in the pejorative. We are most certainly protecting our own backyard — but only with the full understanding that such a project is a lousy idea for so many reasons. Yes, protecting viewsheds is important here, but not just because they’re beautiful. They are one of our few economic assets. The main one, in fact.

• We do not fit the mold of hypocrisy so often used to define those who talk big about saving energy and offer nothing toward that end. Residents and landowners weighed their opinions on this project carefully. When the idea first surfaced, they kept an open mind, and many believed if the industry’s promises were true it could be an acceptable risk. It was only after years of in-depth research the great majority of them learned the touted benefits to their community rang hollow against the statistical data that showed a wind utility of this size, in this place, was a poor choice. Highlanders aren’t protecting a country club here. Until you experience this place for yourself, you cannot appreciate why we fight so hard.

• There are few here who stand against industrial wind energy altogether. Most believe it has its place and a future — maybe even in the commonwealth. But our research indicates there’s a lot to learn about its effects, not only on birds and bats, but on property values and local economies. We know, as you do, the wind industry’s arguments are constructed in the subsidized, deep pockets it aims to protect. You are well aware wind developers are years away at least from being independently competitive. And you agree wind utilities are light years away from providing meaningful contribution to this nation’s energy needs. Highland County does not want to serve as a guinea pig while the industry and its political backers figure out how to make it work. There are plenty of places that can be accomplished without scarring one of the East’s last unspoiled viewsheds.

• We know our future lies in protecting industries that are perfectly suited to our mountainous region — agriculture, tourism, cottage businesses, recreation. You hope job creation will be a good argument for your energy proposal and in most cases, it might be. But not for wind generation. We looked hard at whether this project would provide enough local jobs to make it worth our approval. It doesn’t. Instead, it serves to depreciate the value of our most promising, job-based businesses. One of them, in fact, lies directly beneath the project site. It’s a tourism/educational wilderness retreat — one that brings people to Highland who spend money and time — that would be immediately lost in the shadows of swishing blades and blinking lights.

• You understand one of our citizens’ main fears is proliferation. That very real concern is based on a pattern of poor leadership among our elected officials and their misguided beliefs they know what’s best for us in spite of ourselves. You asked when the next election would be held, and for most of us, it cannot come soon enough. County officials have forged ahead with little thought to setting precedents that open the doors to other wind companies waiting in the wings. We envision a number of our ridgelines dominated by these massive machines and sense there is no easy way to prevent that from occurring. Originally, many here felt they could stomach one industrial wind experiment if we could be assured it was the only one. So far, no one can make those guarantees. Some residents thought they could support one project if it meant a boost to county coffers that would result in improved government services. Again, we are in no way assured of an enhanced, secure revenue stream. Our leaders have failed to effectively navigate this issue.

Senator, we realize you had no intention of stepping into a hornet’s nest of controversy in Highland County. And, as you say, your bill intends to provide localities the opportunity to explore their options well ahead of this point in the process in which we find ourselves.

Maybe so. But you have also used Highland as an example of why your proposal is necessary for Virginia. You hope to remove obstacles that keep this state from developing a clear energy-use plan, and you have cited Highland as an example of how a few local objectors can block a good power plant. But you have little knowledge about the more than three years of complicated events that brought Highland to this point.

Before you use us to support your plan, we invite you to visit. Attend the public hearings this March hosted by the State Corporation Commission. Learn for yourself what this project really means to our residents, and why your legislative proposal makes our residents uneasy. Until you have all the facts about this situation, we caution you against any attempt to unfairly stereotype our landowners and their position.

Take us up on this offer and we believe you will come to understand why most Highlanders have reached the conclusion this proposal is more about profit for a very few people at taxpayers’ expense than a viable source of new energy, and that it will destroy much more than the views we now enjoy. It will lead to the destruction of our natural heritage which, as outlined in our comprehensive land use plans, is the foundation of our promising future.

Source: http://therecorderonline.co...

JAN 13 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/957-an-open-letter-to-sen-frank-wagner-of-virginia-beach
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