Library filed under Impact on Wildlife from Virginia
Despite Highland New Wind Development's request for streamlined treatment from state agencies, the Department of Historic Resources has determined the company must still submit a detailed site plan and visual impact study, particularly because its proposed 39-megawatt wind energy utility would be near a protected Civil War battlefield.
Death, destruction and insomnia are marketed as "renewable electricity" to urban consumers. The federal production tax credit drives it all, with additional subsidies on national forest, where no property taxes are levied. ...We'd have to replace nearly every tree with a turbine to offset even a small amount of coal's impact, devastating the forest in the process. Without a national policy on energy conservation and efficiency, we're whistling in the wind anyway.
Highland New Wind Development (HNWD), developer of the proposed 20-turbine ridgeline wind project in Highland County, Virginia, has taken its search for investors to extremes, posting a website entitled: "The Greenest Windfarm in the World." ...This greenest-of-all posturing puts a new spin on the permit conditions imposed by the State Corporation Commission (SCC). Although potential investors will want to know why the SCC imposed precedent-setting wildlife monitoring conditions on the project, this critical information is missing from the HNWD website. Most of the extensive record, however, including expert reports and testimony submitted to the SCC, is provided here on the Virginia Wind website.
This brochure provides a quick, but informative, summary of the key issues pertaining to wind energy development in Virginia and the Appalachian region. The document can serve as a start point for others preparing similar information materials for their community. Click on the link(s) at the bottom of this page to view the final layout including photos.
The Albemarle County Planning Commission has thrown out the idea of allowing commercial wind turbines in the county-but it's mulling the idea of smaller wind turbines for individual homeowners. ...the devices are behemoths that are up to 550' tall, dwarfing everything around them. "As I understand it, where they might be adequate, there would be unacceptable environmental consequences to the surrounding area," says Commissioner Jon Cannon. Fellow Commissioner Marcia Joseph echoed Cannon's feelings on commercial wind turbine creation. "My main concern is lining the ridgeline with commercial-sized wind turbines," says UVA Environmental Sciences Professor Rick Webb. "I'm concerned about industrial scale development intruding on what remains of wilderness areas we have left."
Freedom Works is planning the project to span the ridge line running along the border between Va. and West Va. The line runs from approximately five miles north of Woodstock to about five miles South of Mount Jackson, along the Western horizon. This would cover eighteen miles of ridgeline, in two states (Virginia and West Virginia), and three counties (Hardy in West Virginia, and Shenandoah and Rockingham in Virginia.) The timeline for the project runs from as short as a two-year, permit-gathering phase (followed by one to two years of construction) to a completion date as far off as the year 2040. When asked about a reported 2010 completion date for the project, Jim Smalls, district ranger for the Lee Ranger District within which the project is being planned, simply said, "I find that optimistic."
The current political wind is in favor of the developers and industrial wind energy interests, thereby significantly influencing the pressure on our natural environment. If the trend continues, how much of our national, state and private forests will remain when our fast expanding population will likely be desperate for a little breathing room in the future - 25, 50 and 100 years from today? I am well aware of the issues of global warming and the nation's energy requirements and am totally convinced that industrial wind energy projects on the ridge tops of the mountains in the Eastern United States is not the solution and unworthy of the billions of dollars that we are bestowing upon this industry. A major reason for the increasing opposition to the development of large industrial wind projects in the mountains is loss of visual amenity, the effects of highly visible vertical man-made structures with rotating blades located in predominantly horizontal, static natural hillscapes. The loss of beautiful scenery, favorite views and inspiring landscapes are objections dismissed by large corporate developers as emotional and subjective. ...In conclusion, the negative issues, problems and drawbacks of siting industrial wind turbines on the pristine mountains is not the answer our nation's need for energy sources. Why are we allowing them to infiltrate our ecologically fragile landscapes and cause huge negative impacts?
The Highland New Wind Development wind utility project is moving ahead, H.T. 'Mac' McBride told supervisors Tuesday. "We have approval (from VDOT) for both entrances (state line and cattle crossing on Laurel Fork). The power purchase agreement is being worked on by our people in Minnesota." ...Highland resident Rick Webb told the board, "It has been suggested on multiple occasions that it would be in the county's best interest to require that HNWD develop a habitat conservation plan and obtain an incidental take permit in compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act. The conditional use permit issued by the previous board of supervisors stipulated that HNWD would be required to obtain all required state and federal approvals before the project is allowed to go forward. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have recommended that HNWD obtain an incidental take permit in order to avoid penalties and possible project shut down. The State Corporation Commission acknowledged that HNWD was assuming a business risk by not obtaining an ITP.
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.
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.
In addition to killing birds, wind turbines at other sites have been found to kill bats, said Rick Lambert, a member of the Virginia Highlands Grotto of the National Speleological Society and local bat enthusiast. At the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in West Virginia, 47.5 bats were killed per turbine annually, he said. In addition to common bats, there are 41 Indiana Bat caves within 50 miles and 23 Virginia Big-eared Bat caves within 30 miles of the proposed wind farm, Lambert said. Both species of bats are endangered and the turbines will be well within their migratory distance, he said.
The environmental impact of Virginia's first wind farm in Highland County could shed light on how successful such farms will be in the Valley, state officials say. State agencies, led by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, will monitor the Highland New Wind Development LLC's 20 wind turbines to see how federally protected bats and birds are affected. Biologists are concerned that inland wind farms on the East Coast could kill large numbers of common bats, and possibly affect the federally protected Indiana bat and Virginia big-eared bat, according to the State Corporation Commission. The commission approved the Highland County project this week but required the developers to study its impact on the animals. "We still have no experience in Virginia," said Ken Schrad, an SCC spokesman. "The Highland project, with its monitoring and mitigation program, will provide that experience for future projects."
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.
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 VA SCC issued its final order that conditionally approves the Highland New Wind Development, LLC application to construct and operate a wind energy generating facility in Highland County, Virginia, near the West Virginia border. The proposed facility would consist of up to twenty (20) wind turbines of up to 2.00 MW capacity each. The order included comprehensive monitoring and mitigation for wildlife impacts (bird and bat) and could serve as a model for other projects. One of the commissioners dissented on a provision in the monitoring and mitigation plan.
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.
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.