Articles filed under General from Virginia
Thus, under the guise of environmental values, public policy in Virginia is promoting renewable energy. But under a different set of environmental values, we'll find that many of those projects are undesirable. To my way of thinking, energy conservation is the most pristine environmental policy of all -- avoid consuming the electricity in the first place. Of course, our current regulatory apparatus encourages Dominion and other electric utilities to pursue renewable energy sources, whatever the cost, because they can pass on the cost to rate payers. By contrast, power companies in Virginia only undercut their market when they invest in conservation measures. We're getting what we wished for, and we may not like it.
But the fact that interest is out there for such a project is a sign of things to come, said Rick Webb, operator of www.vawind.org and a senior scientist with the environmental sciences department at the University of Virginia. "This is probably the tip of the iceberg," he said. Eighteen miles of national forest ridgeline, most of which is on Shenandoah Mountain, stands to be affected by the proposal, Webb said. "It's industrializing our national forest," he said. "The question is whether it's worth the trade-off. In my conclusion, it is not. The electricity produced is just a drop in the bucket."
Proposals for wind farms in the Valley are whipping up opposing viewpoints about the structures' effects on wildlife, local vistas and energy production. Opponents say the turbines, each hundreds of feet tall, would mar the local landscape and endanger bats and birds, some of which are federally protected. But proponents say the farms can be built with minimum impact on the environment to offer clean, alternative energy and a break from the nation's dependency on foreign oil. ...After studying maps and coordinates provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, consultant D. Daniel Boone, a conservation biologist and policy analyst, said the FreedomWorks' project could negatively affect untouched areas of the George Washington National Forest. "Other than a power line and one small road which crosses between Hardy and Shenandoah counties, the project area is completely undisturbed forest with no sign of logging roads or clear-cuts," Boone stated.
An unnamed company has started the application process to build 131 of the massive wind turbines in the national forest in Rockingham County and along the border between Virginia's Shenandoah County and Hardy County in West Virginia. "We're in the pre-application stage" with the company proposing to build the turbines, Chris Rose, a spokesman for the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, said Monday. Rose declined to name the company, citing its early application status, which allows the federal agency to keep the name confidential.
Both county and state permits have been granted to Highland New Wind Development for Virginia's first industrial wind utility, but there seems to be some confusion about what happens next. Part of the trouble stems from determining exactly what the company needs to do in order to proceed with construction. There are a number of permits it needs, but there are several other steps HNWD must take to meet requirements set forth by Highland County and the State Corporation Commission. Those include getting approvals on a number of things as recommended by the state Department of Environmental Quality. And some of those will apparently be tough to get without a final site plan of the project.
Highland citizens have once again reminded county supervisors of their intent to sue the board if proper conditions are not met by Highland New Wind Development LLC. In a Feb. 27 letter addressed to the board, county attorney Melissa Dowd, county administrator Roberta Lambert, and zoning administrator Jim Whitelaw, the law firm of Woods Rogers outlined the citizens' expectations based on the conditional use permit granted to the developer July 14, 2005. Attorney James Jennings, writing on behalf of his clients, first contacted the county in July 2005 informing officials that if they granted a building permit to HNWD they could be violating the Endangered Species Act.
We've said before that it's important that Highland do this soul-searching together as a community before charting its course. The initial signal has been that the development is worth the cost. But we do worry that the big picture can get lost in what's essentially a locally focused debate. ...Wind power might seem a hopelessly inadequate measure, compared with our energy needs and it's only a drop in the bucket. But it's time we get busy trying to figure out how to fill that new bucket, because the old one has a hole in it.
With nearly 19 years under his belt as a commissioner for Virginia's State Corporation Commission, Judge Theodore "Ted" V. Morrison Jr. knows a thing or two about electric utilities. ...Morrison stressed the federal production tax credits are what make commercial wind facilities attractive, but the reality is, the renewable electricity utilities will never substantially change the country's need for larger power plants. "These things are all taxpayer-subsidized. All those tax credits - we pay for that. People tend to forget that," he says. "Maybe 39 megawatts is important, but good gosh, Virginia Power they'll get 200 megawatts out of one plant - there's a 19,000 megawatt portfolio. (This project) is largely 'symbolic.' I wish people would get realistic about the promise of renewables." Morrison believes renewable power won't provide enough electricity in this country to make a dent in the need for large utilities, and HNWD's small facility will be a drop in the bucket. Does he think it will make a difference? "I do not," he said.
Once again, the wind energy industry wants to avoid reasonable regulations to protect wildlife. (RTD 1/19/08) On their behalf, Senator Wagner, ( R Va Beach), has submitted a bill which would exclude wind factories with less than 50 megawatt capacity from any state regulations. For six years, I have watched this fledgling Virginia industry at every avenue, seek to avoid the issue of wildlife protection. ...We taxpayers have a right to demand that these developers be responsible, and especially that our subsidies to the wind industry not be used to the detriment of our wildlife.
Plans for Virginia's first wind farm are breezing along, just as demand for wind-generated electricity appears to be going up. Last month, the State Corporation Commission granted Highland New Wind Development permission to construct and operate up to 20 wind turbines at a mountaintop site. In recent days, the deadline passed for those who disagree with the decision to appeal. As a result, the company is moving forward on at least two fronts.
A company seeking to build 19 windmills in rural Highland County, amid considerable opposition, fought for more than four years to get local and state approval. State Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, wants to smooth the path for similar projects that follow. Under a bill proposed by Wagner, small producers of renewable energy -- those creating 50 megawatts or less -- would be exempt from State Corporation Commission authority. They still would need local approval.
Last week, the State Corporation Commission granted conditional approval for the company to build up to 20 turbines, each about 400 feet tall, on Red Oak Knob and Tamarack Ridge near the West Virginia border. ...McBride's project faced considerable opposition from environmentalists. It was widespread among residents who see Highland County as a pristine rural area and "a sort of last frontier," Sullenberger said. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries summarized the opposition in a September 2006 letter to the SCC. "We support the use of alternative energy sources, including wind energy" the DGIF said. "However, we feel this project presents an unacceptable risk to wildlife."
Partly because of this experience, I am a strong advocate of wind power. But the letter from Richard White ("Windmills won't destroy mountaintops," Nov. 30) advocating 40,000 wind turbines along the Appalachian Mountains is so absurd that it has caused me to write in response to the nonsense proposed by local fans (pun intended) of wind power.
Alexander Skirpan, the hearing examiner, made several recommendations most will appreciate, including requiring mitigation and monitoring throughout the life of the project as needed. ...But most still retain hope the project will never come to fruition. Hurdles remain. Investors will be wary of HNWD's decision to ignore strong advice about getting a habitat conservation plan and incidental take permit for endangered species. There are still lawyers waiting in the wings for the first time one of those raptors is found dead at the foot of a wind tower. Without taking the best steps to mitigate its own financial outlook, HNWD may not be able to get backing it needs.
Following State Corporation Commission's decision in March to remand the case to its hearing examiner for further review on environmental concerns, months of testimony have been submitted and reviewed. This week, the hearing examiner, Alexander J. Skirpan, submitted another report to commissioners, this time recommending "robust" monitoring of the potentially adverse impacts to wildlife, for the expected 20-year life of the project. ...Skirpan had previously concluded HNWD's project be approved by the SCC. But commissioners wanted to know what kind of details a monitoring and mitigation plan would include, rather than leaving those issues up to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and HNWD.
Backers of a proposed wind farm in Highland County would have to search daily for dead birds and bats and curtail turbine operations to limit loss of animal life under a proposed wildlife-protection plan issued Wednesday by a Virginia State Corporation Commission hearing officer. ...Citing "significant risk" to bats, and "a lesser risk" to birds, Skirpan recommended that backers of the 19-turbine project should pay for monitoring and altering their use, including speed, for the life of the wind farm.
Developers have cleared another hurdle for a wind farm in Highland County. A hearing examiner has asked the State Corporation Commission to approve his recommendations to reduce harm to native birds and bats.
The release of a proposed wind energy plant's financial data raises new questions about its environmental options. ...The mistakenly released analysis says the company expects to earn more than $4 million a year after paying off equipment and other startup costs. As is typical for the nascent wind-energy industry, the owners would be able to not only sell the electricity the turbines would produce, but also would make money from government incentives for renewable-energy investors, which include income tax breaks and marketable credits.
Visitors to the nation's public forests and grasslands could find wind turbines cranking out power for an energy-hungry nation under a proposal to be released any day in Washington, D.C. ... But Rick Webb, a senior scientist at the University of Virginia, said those wind assets are relatively small. "I'm skeptical that the benefits of development on Appalachian ridges is worth the environmental costs. These ridgelines represent what remains for the most part of our wild landscape," Webb said.
The state Supreme Court cleared the way Friday for development of Virginia's first utility-grade wind farm in Highland County. Neighboring landowners opposed the project, arguing that its 400-foot-tall turbines would ruin the scenery and endanger migratory birds. In their lawsuit, they claimed county officials failed to follow proper procedures in approving the project.