Library filed under Zoning/Planning from Virginia
MONTEREY - Preparations have been under way for weeks, and this Tuesday, the State Corporation Commission will hold its second evidentiary hearing on what could be Virginia's first industrial wind energy utility. After months of testimony, the SCC did not reach a decision on whether to grant Highland New Wind Development a state permit to build its facility here atop Allegheny Mountain. Instead, the three commissioners remanded the case back to the SCC hearing examiner with instructions to gather more information, particularly on how to prevent or reduce the 39-megawatt plant's impacts on the environment, and monitor those after construction. HNWD is expected to call some of the same people it did at the first hearing to rebut testimony of expert witnesses who have spoken on behalf of The Nature Conservancy and Highland citizens opposed to the project.
Frederick County's federal elected representatives are keeping an open mind about a proposed power line that would end in Kemptown. U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-6) touted the benefits of the proposed twin-500 volt power line that will run through parts of the county in a statement Friday. "Residents and businesses in the Sixth District expect to have electricity for heat, light and air conditioning when they need it," he said. "In addition to these benefits, an upgraded transmission system could accommodate more renewable energy generation, such as wind or solar power." The state's two senators, however, were more reserved when discussing the line.
Imagine 3,500 wind turbines, each at least as tall as a 40-story building, lining the ridges of Virginia's mountains for about 400 miles (Shenandoah National Park is 100 miles in length). That is what would be needed, according to a U.Va. environmental scientist, to satisfy proposed legislation to make nine percent of Virginia's energy "renewable" by 2020. Rick Webb doesn't want to imagine it, nor would he allow it if it were up to him. "On-shore wind energy will do little to solve our energy problems in Virginia, but will possibly do significant harm to our environment," he said.
The evidence is clear. At this juncture in the debate on whether to build industrial wind utilities in the Allegheny Mountains, there is one point on which nearly all experts agree: No one knows enough about the effects these 400-foot towers could have on our unique and sensitive environment and we should do everything possible to find out more before any more are erected.
Webb, a senior research scientist at the University of Virginia's department of environmental sciences, spent 20 months serving on the committee studying the environmental effects of industrial-scale wind energy in the United States and Mid-Atlantic Highlands - a study mandated by the U.S. Congress after a request from Sen. Mollihan in West Virginia. The committee's recently released report has been submitted to Congress, and Webb says it concludes, as he has said for so long, that decisions about wind projects need to be tied to a systematic review process with specific requirements for information. "The NRC report calls for clear criteria or guidelines for making decisions," Webb said. "We don't have that at this point."
A new federal proposal to help electricity flow more freely could help the energy-choked East Coast. But it could also infuriate landowners, who have traditionally gotten their way in fights against utilities in Delaware. U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman last week named Delaware as part of his proposed eastern National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor. It would run from New York to Virginia, and west to Ohio. A second corridor would run through California, Arizona and Nevada.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. A problem with potholes has prompted officials to move toward banning heavy trucks from a road in far southeastern Wyoming, potentially hobbling a multi-million-dollar wind farm project launched by a Virginia company. The Laramie County Commission voted yesterday to ban certain vehicles from Laramie County Road 164. The ban could ultimately include heavy trucks, with exceptions for farm machinery and military trucks transporting ballistic missiles. Trucks had been using the road to haul gravel to the Cedar Creek Wind Project outside Grover, Colorado. When complete, the 480 (m) million dollar wind farm will have 274 turbines producing enough electricity for 120-thousand homes. The project was being developed by Greenlight Energy Incorporated of Charlottesville, Virginia. The company is linked to Houston-based B-P Alternative Energy North America.
After nearly 16 months of examination at the State Corporation Commission, Highland New Wind Development is increasingly closer to its goal of constructing Virginia’s first wind energy utility. The project, planned for Tamarack Ridge and Red Oak Knob atop Allegheny Mountain, needs a state permit to construct at least 19 wind turbine towers in two formations in the westernmost corner of Highland County. It doesn’t have the permit yet. A final decision must come from the three SCC commissioners. But the hearing examiner charged with coordinating the application review, Alexander Skirpan Jr., has issued his report recommending it be granted. Skirpan explained the SCC is confined in reviewing the application to specific points it must consider: The potential effect of a utility on the environment, economic development, and improvement to and reliability of electric service. The commissioners must also find the utility is “not otherwise contrary to the public interest.”
There’s a spiritual quality. There’s something about the unmanaged areas deep in the woods, the places where birds and animals can live without being disturbed. The George Washington National Forest is a good place to get away from the hectic pace of one’s job and enjoy its lovely scenic qualities, they said. Most of the 50 or so people gathered Monday at Hot Springs Presbyterian Church told U.S. Forest Service officials that the GWNF, which covers 1,065,000 acres in this region, has been pretty well-managed over the years, and they don’t want much about it to change, even for the sake of renewable wind power on the electric grid.
ROANOKE -- A state hearing examiner has recommended construction of the first utility-grade wind farm in Virginia, provided it meets conditions to minimize harm to the environment. The recommendation announced Thursday goes to the State Corporation Commission, which will decide whether to approve construction of the 19-turbine development on Highland County ridges. SCC hearing examiner Alexander Skirpan found that the project by Highland New Wind Development poses a risk to bats and birds, but said a monitoring program by the company and a state agency following construction would help reduce the hazard.
The issue that roared into Patrick County like a windstorm almost a year ago blew away Monday like a gentle breeze. The Patrick County Board of Supervisors voted to pass a tall structures ordinance that will prohibit the construction of 400-foot wind turbines on the county’s mountain ridges. Telecommunications towers and church steeples are exempt from the tall structures ban. The vote was in response to the results of a survey mailed to real estate owners along with their tax statements last fall. When county officials tallied the surveys in January, they announced that the tall structures ordinance was supported by 73.7% of the voters with 26.3% opposed.
The Virginia Supreme Court will enter the national debate over wind energy for the first time this summer when it hears a challenge to the state’s first proposed wind farm. A lower court ruled in favor of the controversial Highland County project last year, but in an unusual step, the high court decided this week to hear the case directly rather than having it first reviewed by a three-judge panel. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in June. A ruling is expected in September.
MONTEREY, Va. — Wes Maupin says he will move this spring to a 20-acre spread here in remote Highland County, a pastoral place where sheep outnumber people and where little has changed since his boyhood, when he fished the county’s mountain streams with his father. Mr. Maupin, a 52-year-old former corrections worker, does have one misgiving, though. Like many others in Highland, known for its rustic heights as Virginia’s Switzerland, he finds no joy in the prospect that these blustery Allegheny ridges could soon become home to the state’s first wind farm: 19 wind turbines, each taller than the Statue of Liberty, its pedestal included. “Any wind farm,” Mr. Maupin said, “would surely change the character of this county forever.”
Despite the protests from other areas, wind turbines are making their way into the Valley. The first one was just built in Augusta County. While this turbine is much smaller than ones that have been opposed in Pendleton and Highland counties, people in other areas have blocked their construction.
Highland New Wind Development says not only will its facility not have an overly negative impact to wildlife, but that in fact it will contribute to reducing fossil fuel use in Virginia.
No surprises here. The staff of the State Corporation Commission has concluded Highland New Wind Development’s proposal does not pose a problem for most of the requirements needed to acquire a state level permit. The one critical area SCC staff chose to leave in the hands of others is the potential environmental impacts created by the project related principally to avian wildlife.
Friddle and Staggers presented the group with a PowerPoint presentation on the proposed Interstate transmission line, known as the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL). The new transmission line will be 240 miles and will be 500 kilovolts. The line should run from southwestern Pennsylvania to West Virginia, then to Northern Virginia. The proposed cost for the project is estimated to be $1.4 billion. According to Friddle, the new transmission line is needed so that the supply of electricity meets the demand for electricity. “Without this project, it's determined that by 2011 there will be 12 electrical problems with possible blackouts and brownouts,” Friddle said.
Any way you cut it, the State Corporation Commission staff’s decision to recommend approval of Mac McBride’s wind project on Allegheny Mountain was a pre-determined cop out. Because Highland County’s supervisors long ago dismissed the concerns of the great majority of their constituents about the negative effects of industrial scale wind power on tourism and viewsheds, the SCC staff was also able to sidestep the heart of the matter in its purely technical support of HNWD’s bid for a state permit to begin construction. All the heartfelt testimony of those who would be directly affected by the project related to the county’s beauty, history, cultural heritage and future opportunity based on these factors was simply ignored. SCC personnel said those things had already been considered by HighSland County supervisors when they reviewed the company’s application for a local conditional use permit. Most Highland residents believe their elected officials failed in this process, and the majority of other appointed leaders who got involved agreed they could not support HNWD’s plans. The examination of HNWD’s application by county supervisors did not begin to sufficiently assess the profound impacts this project could have. Two of the three on our board chose to lean on biased information and a subjective review of the county’s land use plan, and ignore the pleas of their constituents who came to them armed with an army of research showing these leaders they didn’t begin to have all the facts.
Like its Highland neighbor, one of Bath County’s greatests assets is its scenic mountain ranges and the natural resources they provide. It also has some of the highest winds in Virginia and is therefore attractive to industrial wind energy companies. Its vistas atop the surrounding ridge lines make it attractive to other kinds of development as well. Bath planner Miranda Redinger is urging the planning commission to seriously consider some sort of ridge top protection ordinance.
The State Corporation Commission staff has recommended approval of a proposed wind energy farm in Highland County provided the developers can resolve concerns about birds, bats and other environmental issues. An SCC hearing examiner is expected to decide by early March whether to issue a permit to build and operate the facility, which would be the first industrial wind farm in Virginia. “We remain optimistic they’ll grant the permit, although we remain concerned” about state and federal agencies’ requests for additional environmental research, said Frank Maisano, a consultant for the project’s developer, Highland New Wind Development LLC. The SCC’s review is one of the final regulatory hurdles for the project, but it faces continued legal challenges that both sides expect to reach the Virginia Supreme Court, which would take up the issue for the first time.