Articles from Virginia
State legislators may soon make life easier for a company looking to build a controversial wind farm in Highland County. A new bill in the General Assembly would exempt certain small electricity-generating facilities from state environmental regulations and requirements, so long as they operate on renewable energy. Senate bill 234, introduced by State Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) two weeks ago and currently being considered by the Commerce and Labor Committee, would exempt all electric facilities that generate and distribute renewable energy with a capacity of no more than 50 megawatts. ...Rick Webb, a senior scientist at UVA and nationally-recognized wind energy expert, believes that the passing of this bill is crucial to the Highland County wind farm's success and that without the bill's passage, Highland New Wind would face potentially devastating repercussions for failing to abide by the Endangered Species Act. The proposed wind farm's location is in the center of several caves that are home to two species of endangered bats: the Virginia Big-Eared bat and the Indiana bat.
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.
The site of a proposed wind farm on the border of Virginia and West Virginia is inappropriate, federal officials say, due to the potential harm such a project could pose to several endangered species. That's the opinion of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service in a letter to environmental consultant Western EcoSystems Technology Inc., of Cheyenne, Wyo. ...Fish and Wildlife officials said the agency supports alternative energy production, including wind power, but only when they are "sited and operated to be bird-and-bat friendly."
HNWD attorneys Brian Brake and John Flora declined to make any comment on the SCC's decision or answer questions about how the company will proceed from here. At this point, Bailey said he doubted the SCC would reconsider its permit order. "Legal arguments at the SCC are always edgy, and here, it's so clear how seriously they have taken the environment. The chances (of an appeal) prevailing are remote ... This has set a wonderful precedent for Virginia, and I can't see wind turbines exploding in this state now." And, before construction can begin, HNWD is required to submit a final site plan. The company cannot do anything, including storing equipment on site, until that site plan is approved. Before HNWD can get a county building permit, it must also file a performance bond. For the first partial year and five subsequent years, that bond must be for $2,500 per turbine tower; for the remaining years, the amount is $6,000 each.
Those looking for a sense of closure on the topic of wind energy in Highland County aren't going to get it anytime soon. The State Corporation Commission's approval two weeks ago for the Virginia's first wind energy utility was another big step toward getting 400-foot turbines erected on our ridge lines, but most involved agree Highlanders are unlikely to see blades spinning this year. ...Overall, Virginians should feel pretty good about how thoroughly the SCC examined HNWD's application for the facility. Protecting the environment - not McBride's bottom line - was clearly important to commissioners and other state agencies weighing in on the decision. The conditions attached to the permit indicate HNWD will be held accountable for environmental damage across the board if the utility adversely impacts in the pristine Appalachian area where it would be built. State agencies, including the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, will have virtually unfettered access on a daily basis to study the facility and watch for problems - something other states and utilities have rarely provided.
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."
Highland New Wind chose not to seek a federal permit to protect the wind farm from possible immediate shutdown by government order if an endangered or threatened animal is killed or injured. That's a risk that regulators said the company is free to take if it wishes. Another battleground was how much Highland New Wind will pay for wildlife measures. Thursday's ruling initially capped monitoring costs at up to $150,000 a year. It capped shutdown-related expenses to benefit wildlife at either $50,000 a year or 0.85 percent of revenue from the prior year, whichever is higher. Previously released case documents said the project is expected to generate lots of cash long-term. Company financial analysts predicted Highland New Wind could earn an annual profit of $4.2 million after major expenses are paid off in 10 to 15 years. With state approval now in hand, the company said it will begin recruiting investors.
The first wind-powered electric generation project in Virginia will be permitted on the remote ridges of Highland County, the State Corporation Commission said Thursday. The commission granted conditional approval to Highland New Wind Development's $60 million proposal to place 19 turbines more than 400 feet tall on a 4,400-foot ridge near the West Virginia border. The company must spend up to $150,000 a year to monitor and mitigate harm to birds and bats that could be caused by the whirling turbine blades, the SCC said. Environmentalists have contended many endangered species would be threatened by the project, and an SCC hearing examiner concluded that the turbines were a "significant risk" to bats and "a lesser risk" to birds.
Dominion Virginia Power, the state's largest electric utility, is looking to get greener. Actually, Dominion must get greener, mostly because of government rules in Virginia and North Carolina that at least 12 percent of the company's energy come from renewable sources by 2022. Dominion currently draws about 2 percent of its power from green energy supplies, including a large biomass facility in Pittsylvania County and a hydroelectric pumping station in the mountains of Bath County. To expand its environmental portfolio, the Richmond-based conglomerate is seeking project proposals from entrepreneurs and businesses to provide more renewable energy in the near future. ..."In order to meet one of the fastest-growing demands in the country, we need a very balanced portfolio," he said. That means investing in coal as well as renewables, energy conservation and efficiencies, and nuclear power. Dominion announced last month that it intends to seek a federal license to build a third reactor at its North Anna nuclear power plant, northwest of Richmond.
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.
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.
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.
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 ferocity of local opinions against the project has raised questions about Virginia's future as a wind-energy producer, with surrounding counties unsure about opening their mountaintops to investors, too. The debate also comes as entrepreneurs in other states are rushing to erect turbines, take advantage of federal tax credits and create electricity without the emissions linked to global warming.
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.
Bats serve important ecological functions that keep natural systems in balance, especially insect control. Their diminishment could impact humans in ways ranging from decreased crop yields and increased use of pesticides to greater incidence of insect-borne diseases. There is a risk that the public will accept wind energy as an easy solution to global warming without understanding the necessity of monitoring and mitigation requirements. It is important for the public to recognize that while the proposed development could produce up to 39 megawatts of power under ideal conditions, eastern turbines average less than a third of that amount over the course a year, and much less than a third during the summer when electricity demand is highest.
All the talk about monitoring and, "moving forward with mitigation risk," as The Native Conservancy puts it, is farcical. What kind of conservancy is that? A meaningful monitoring system would require it to be a robust scientifically designed plan with continuous on-site day and night monitoring for the life of the project. The rub is, who would be the monitor? ...The only type of monitoring that makes sense is to do it prior to construction of the towers. To do so after construction is a meaningless scam.