Industrial Wind Power in Highland Co, VA

Highland is Virginia’s least populated and highest elevation county. Our scenery is our greatest asset.

Last Update: 29 January 2008

“Freedom is when the people can speak;
democracy is when the government listens.”

— Alistair Farrugia          

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Latest News

13 January 2008 — The press of other matters has kept me from working on this site and keeping up with most news. I have kept The Recorder page up to date through this period. All Recorder articles since July 2007, and some earlier ones, are available on line and provide complete coverage of the HNWD issue.

In brief, the SCC has approved the HNWD application with extensive conditions. [Link to the complete text of the SCC final order.] It is not yet known whether these conditions are sufficiently strict that HNWD will be unable to attract investors. In addition, HNWD has not yet obtained an incidental take permit for endangered species of birds and bats. Lack of such a permit may put HNWD in noncompliance with the conditional use permit issued by Highland County. The election last November removed one of the two automatic votes in favor of HNWD on the Highland board of supervisors. It is unclear whether this change will cause the board to look more closely at the situation. It may lead to a strict interpretation of the “all permits” stipulation in the conditional use permit to include the incidental take permit. HNWD has declined to obtain this permit voluntarily.

11 April 2007 — The SCC Commissioners have remanded the HWND case to the Hearing Examiner for further hearings relative to the enviromental issues raised by VDEQ, VDGIF, VDCR, and USFWS. The 13-page Commissioners’ order gives all the details and is interesting reading. Various depositions are required in May and June. The next hearing is scheduled for 17 July. Naturally, HNWD has objected to this schedule and wants the hearing moved up to 8 May. The Hearing Examiner has scheduled a prehearing conference on 24 April to discuss the scope of the proceedings.

2 March 2007 — The SCC Hearing Examiner has released his report on the HNWD application. It is bad news in that he recommends that the project be allowed to proceed with only post-construction studies of bird and bat impacts. He did not recommend any pre-construction studies. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is to be involved in planning and conducting these studies, so there is a good chance they will be done fairly. The full Commission has not yet ruled on the examiner’s report, though it will likely be approved, and the issue is still before the Supreme Court.

22 February 2007 — SB 1351 was modified in committee in the House so that it no longer impacts wind projects. The House version has been accepted by the Senate, so we won this small battle. My analysis of the evolution of this bill. Thanks to everyone who contacted the Delegates. It made a difference.

8 February: Urgent calls and letters needed! Special-interest legislation has passed the Virginia Senate and is now before the House. Please read the details on SB 1351. This would short-circuit ongoing judicial review of the HNWD project. The Recorder has an excellent editorial on this bill, End run should be stopped, 15 February 2007.

A 23 January article in The Roanoke Times perpetuates the myth that the HNWD project would “serve” 15,000 homes. This myth is ably refuted in a rebuttal article by Glenn Schleede, who shoots down the idea that it even makes sense to talk about “homes served” by an intermittent power source. This myth is refuted from a slightly different perspective in a short paper that I prepared for this purpose.

26 January 2007: The SCC staff has sent a memo to the Commissioners stating that the HNWD project has met the basic requirements of state law, with only certain environmental concerns needing review. [144 kB]   Several articles in The Recorder cover this memo and the post-hearing briefs filed with the Commission.

One statement on page 3 of the memo stands out – “. . . numerous public witnesses addressed the impact of the project on tourism and other development in Highland County. The Staff would note that these issues were considered by the Highland County Board of Supervisors before it granted the conditional use permit.” This statement is simply not true. The majority members of the board went into this whole matter with their minds made up. They relied on one-sided information and chose to ignore the testimony of their constituents as well as that of recognized experts. They did not consider anything except how to press on to their predetermined decision. This was a travesty of democracy and it is unworthy of the professionalism of the SCC staff that they do not recognize this.

20 January 2007: The Virginia Legislature is now in session. We will track developments that impact industrial wind power as the legislative session proceeds. The main issue at this moment is SB 1275 on Renewable Portfolio Standards, sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple. Follow the above link for the full text of this bill and a discussion of its impact on wind development in Virginia.

22 November 2006: The SCC hearings are finally history. My report [below] has been updated. The hearing examiner will prepare his report and final briefs will be submitted by both sides before the case will go to the commissioners. A final decision is expected early in 2007.

31 October 2006: The final SCC hearings on the HNWD case are ongoing at this time in Richmond. I attended the hearings yesterday and have prepared a brief report. I will update this report whenever I have news of the continuing sessions. The hearings are expected to recess tomorrow afternoon and resume next week or the week after, perhaps five or six days all together.

18 September 2006: Another long period has passed with no updates to this page. Sigh! The main happenings in the HNWD case are that the Highland County supervisors prevailed in the several lawsuits and preparations are under way for the final hearings by the State Corporation Commission in October. The court decisions are being appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. We should know later this year whether the court will agree to hear the cases.

The SCC hearings will be held at 10 a.m. on 30 October in their office building at 1300 East Main Street in downtown Richmond, Courtroom C on the second floor. The main purpose of this hearing is to cross examine expert witnesses who have presented testimony on both sides. However, public witnesses will be allowed to speak at the beginning of the hearing. Anyone wishing to speak should arrive a few minutes early and sign in with the Commission bailiff. Anyone who testified at the SCC hearings in Monterey must present new information and not rehash what has already been said. Testimony must be brief and substantive. The hearing examiner will not permit witnesses to make lengthy statements as he did in Monterey. It will be counterproductive to be long winded or repetitive. The hearings are expected to last for two days, perhaps longer.

A long article on wind power is in Orion magazine, Whither Wind?, by Charles Komanoff, v.25, n.5, pp 30-37, Sep-Oct 2006. This is a well-written and thoughtful article but it reaches a conclusion in favor of wind development. This is unfortunate since Orion is a well-respected journal. I believe Komanoff has been a bit loose with some of the facts, at least when applied to Appalachian sites, so careful rebuttals are in order. The above web site provides a link for posting commnents on line. Quite a few comments, most favorable, have been posted as of this writing.

25 June 2006: Two main things have happened since I last updated this site in May. First, two of the citizen’s suits against Highland County were dismissed but a third case is going to trial this week, 27 June 2006, in Monterey and a fourth suit has been filed, which will be heard in August. The two dismissed suits have been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. Coverage in The Recorder includes an article on 9 June about the dismissed suits and another on 23 June about the upcoming court hearings. In addition, the print edition for 23 June carried a summary of all of the pending legal actions, an article about the attorneys involved, and a timeline for the wind project from June 2002 to date.

The second thing is a response from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to Highland New Wind’s attempt to terminate state agency reviews and get on with SCC approval [see section on Flora’s letter to DEQ, below]. DGIF has provided a detailed response, indicating that they cannot complete their review since HNWD has refused to provide the necessary information. There is an article about this in The Recorder on 9 June 2006.

Meanwhile, county officials have taken closer control over the Comprehensive Plan Review, appointing a new advisory committee and setting a schedule of meetings. This link leads to reports and documents on that matter, which is peripheral to the wind issue but important because so much of the opposition to wind development stems from its incompatibility with the Comp Plan.

The National Academies of Science, Committee on Environmental Impact of Wind Energy Projects, held its third meeting on 18-20 May 2006 at Canaan Valley State Park near Davis, WV. There was a field trip on Saturday morning to view the nearby Mountaineer project but Florida Power and Light would not permit this committee to enter the site so they were limited to viewing it from public roads. The stated reason is that as an industrial site it is “too dangerous.” Hmmmmm.

John Flora has written a letter to the Department of Environmental Quality on behalf of HNWD, stating that all relevant studies have been completed and requesting that DEQ remove its suspension and proceed with its report to the SCC. The letter refers to numerous attachments, totaling nearly 80 pages [2.38 Mb], which are available separately for anyone wanting all of the supporting detail. Both the letter and the attachments are cleaner files than those available from the SCC or elsewhere. The Recorder has a more detailed report on this development, including responses from state officials, as well as excerpts from and discussion of Flora’s letter to the DEQ.

Pin-back metal buttons, 2¼" in diameter, with the image shown at left are available from Protect Pendleton. The WV Public Service Commission is holding two hearings in Franklin to receive public comment on the Liberty Gap project, 4 May 2006 at 1:30 and 7:00 p.m. at the Community Building. These hearings will focus on the 50 turbines proposed for Jack Mountain in Pendleton County. If built, this project would directly impact the Doe Hill and Forks of Waters sections of Highland and it would open the door for development on down Jack Mountain in Highland County. Liberty Gap wants to place 62 turbines between the state line and US 250. Be sure to wear your button when you attend the hearing!   I attended part of the evening session and found the testimony to be much like that at the SCC hearings in Monterey. There was no sign-up list so the hearing examiner called on people who raised their hands. Thirty-three had spoken at the afternoon session and he promised that the evening session would continue until everyone who wanted to speak had done so. It looked like it would be a long evening. Tom Matthews of Liberty Gap described the project and a representative of the Building Trades Council [union] supported it. Attorney James McNeely, represnting Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County, spoke in opposition, stating the Liberty Gap had not complied with PSC requirements. He also quoted a person who said, “We’re right fond of our raggedy little mountains just the way they are.” The floor was then opened for public comments. The first six, including myself, spoke in opposition, then Steve Conrad spoke in favor. He seems to be Pendleton’s version of Jerry Rexrode, saying that most people are in favor of the project but don’t want to speak out and that those who do speak are against virtually everything that comes along. A break was called shortly after nine o’clock and I left for home. The Recorder has a more detailed report on these hearings.

Where are we today, 26 April 2006? Our Planning Commission has found that the HNWD proposal is in compliance with our Comprehensive Plan despite the fact that nothing vaguely similar to it is mentioned therein. This decision is being challenged in court. SCC hearings have been held but further action by the SCC is waiting for a report from the Department of Environmental Quality. Public comment to the SCC remains open until after the DEQ report is available. A court hearing on some aspects of the case is scheduled for 27 June. Meanwhile, Pendleton and Greenbrier Counties in West Virginia are fighting even larger projects. The Pendleton project on Jack Mountain would have a direct impact on Highland County, if approved.

Report on the Section 2232 review by the Planning Commission to determine if the HNWD project is “substantially in accord” with the county Comprehensive Plan, 18-19 April 2006.
This report now includes the Commission’s report to the Board of Supervisors.

Reports on the hearings by the State Corporation Commission on the HNWD project, 13-14 March 2006 in Monterey.

Recent happenings on HNWD wind project

The Department of Environmental Quality has suspended its review of the application from HNWD to the SCC pending the submission of additional information by the applicant. Several state agencies are parties to the request for more information. A letter from DEQ to the State Corporation Commission summarizes the concerns of the other agencies. This is the most important document to read. If more detailed information is desired one should refer to the separate reports listed below. There is also an article in The Recorder on all of these reports.

The Department of Game & Inland Fisheries report is by far the most detailed. It is 22 pages, 1.30 Mb, but it is very interesting reading. They are highly critical of the studies submitted by HNWD and suggest that a number of additional studies be carried out.

The Department of Conservation & Recreation report is only two pages but they support the VDGIF comments and suggest a two year pre-construction monitoring program.

The Department of Historic Resources report is also short and critical. They want viewshed analyses and a comprehensive site plan among other things.

The Army Corps of Engineers states that it will comply with the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA], the Endangered Species Act [ESA], and the National Historic Preservation Act [NHPA] and will coordinate with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Departments of Environmental Quality, Historic Resources, and Game & Inland Fisheries prior to permitting a utility line crossing of the Laurel Fork.

As expected, the Highland County Board of Supervisors has become a respondent with the SCC in the HNWD case. In their Notice of Participation the supervisors again assert that the project is consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance.

The PJM Interconnection has issued its Impact Study Report, January 2006, for the HNWD project.

HNWD attorney John Flora wrote to Senator George Allen, 13 December 2005, requesting his assistance in getting the US Fish & Wildlife Service to back off on its Interim Guidelines for wind projects, objecting particularly to the proposed multi-year bird and bat studies. On 11 January 2006 Sen. Allen forwarded Flora’s letter to the USFWS, requesting “immediate attention and expeditious assistance” on the issues raised but does not take a position on them himself. Flora’s letter illustrates HNWD’s continuing low-level approach to the debate.

Court hearing on HNWD wind project

There was a hearing on 12 December 2005 in Highland County court on a citizen suit to block the Highland New Wind Development project on a variety of planning, zoning, and procedural issues. Attorneys for the Highland County Supervisors filed a variety of motions requesting that the suit be dismissed without a hearing, all of which were rejected by the judge. The case will go to trial on 27 June 2006 and is expected to take two days. The Recorder published two detailed reports on this hearing in its 16 December edition. These are available on line at:
  Wind energy suit will go to trial
  Plaintiffs trump county’s bid to dismiss suit.
The latter article lists the trial date as 14 June but it was later changed to the 27th.

HNWD maneuvering with the SCC

On 15 September 2005 McBride and his attorney met with State officials in Richmond to lobby for an expedited review of their project. A detailed report of this meeting was published in The Recorder. In a nutshell it appears that the State agencies will take their time with this and will probably do a comprehensive review, which could take a couple of years. It is also reported that there is a shortage of turbines, such that HNWD cannot receive its equipment until 2007 at earliest. The US Fish and Wildlife Service wrote to McBride on 28 September suggesting that multi-year preconstruction studies should be carried out to determine potential effects on wildlife — see link in the resources section below.

There was an interesting exchange between HNWD attorney, John Flora, and a State official regarding public hearings. The following is quoted from The Recorder article:

Flora also said HNWD would like to avoid a public hearing, but officials said there was a lot of time for them to review the application, and whether a public hearing was held had more to do with how much opposition there was to the proposal. “A hearing may not be scheduled, unless you have public protest,” one said.
“We’ll have that,” Flora replied.
“If you’re pretty sure you have public opposition, you’re better off to ask for (a hearing),” an SCC official advised.
“They’d (the McBrides) rather not have one but I see the wisdom in it,” Flora said.

The implication is clear for those who oppose this project — once the SCC application is filed the Commission must be flooded with letters of protest and requests for a hearing to be held in Monterey.

State-wide energy planning with implications for wind projects

Energy policy in Virginia is suddenly in the news on several fronts. Wind energy is just a part of this. Here are the major players in the events and legislation now under consideration:
  The Virginia Commission for Electric Utility Restructuring (CEUR) has been discussing implementation of RPS in Virginia. RPS would require utilities to provide a certain percentage of their power from wind.
  Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal and Energy Research has been commissioned by the CEUR to study the potential for RPS in Virginia.
  The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission is proposing legislation that would remove the siting of energy facilities from any local governmental control, such as zoning ordinances or comprehensive plans.
  The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is one of the state agencies tasked with studying the siting of energy facilities, along with
  The State Corporation Commission, which is also the agency that will rule on the HNWD project.

A chart showing the relationships among these groups and others appeared in The Recorder, 18 November 2005.

Notable Quotes

Previous meetings and hearings on wind energy in Highland County and related issues:

Following are my reports on these meetings. They are also reported in greater detail in The Recorder, all of which are listed on a separate page, most with links to the text of the articles. Reports in other papers are in the Resources section further down on this page.

How did all of this get started?

Char and I took a trip to Pennsylvania and West Virginia in October 2002 to see several completed plants and one under construction. These things are HUGE and, while somewhat benign at first sight, serious concerns emerge with any sort of investigation. We would like to support what appears to be renewable or “green” energy but in reality these machines are very inefficient, not really benign environmentally, and, in truth, much more of a tax-avoidance scheme than an energy-generating facility.

And just how big are these things? While several companies manufacture them, some basic information is available on the General Electric Co web site. The popular 1.5 MW turbine can be 316 to 454 feet tall with a rotor either 231 or 253 feet in diameter. The larger rotor turns at a maximum speed of 20 RPM, resulting in a tip speed over 180 MPH. Newer 2.5 MW units can be up to 548 feet in overall height with rotors up to 308 feet in diameter. These operate more slowly, up to 15 RPM, with a tip speed of 164 MPH. A still larger 3.6 MW unit is also listed but no height is specified. The rotor is 341 feet in diameter with a tip speed of 186 MPH at 15.3 RPM. This rotor sweeps an area in excess of two acres! We are told that these largest turbines are designed for offshore use only.

Photo Gallery 1 of some PA and WV sites, one from OK, and one from the UK. [225 kB]   The Meyersdale site pictured here is just east of Garrett, shown in Gallery 2.

Photo Gallery 2 is a selection of photos from our 2002 trip to see turbines in PA and WV. [240 kB]

Photo Gallery 3 shows three simulations of the HNWD project on Red Oak Knob and Tamarack Ridge.

Photo Gallery 4 shows three orthophoto maps of the Mountaineer facility before and after construction, highlighting the amount of habitat destruction resulting from ridgetop developments. [340 kB]

Photo Gallery 5 shows several turbines in various stages of construction and destruction.   The links to six of these photos were broken but no one told me. They are now OK. Please help!!

Cartoon Gallery relating to Highland County wind power. [280 kB]

We propose to use this page to post information and links as an aid to communication among interested parties while it is a live issue. Perhaps we will leave it up after a decision is reached just for the record. Please tell me if there are any broken links so we can repair them.

Most documents on this web site are posted in Adobe Portable Document Format [PDF]. In order to access these you must have Adobe Acrobat or Acrobat Reader installed on your computer. The Reader is free and can be downloaded by clicking the above link. You must then choose the correct version for your computer. If you have a dial-up connection you probably want the Basic version. Even that is 8.7 Mb for Windows and 15 Mb for Mac, so it will take some time to download. If you have Acrobat integrated with your browser you can click the link to any PDF file and view it in the browser window. To download the file to your computer, right click the link and select “Save Target As.”

Resources — Document References and Links

Significant Web Sites and Documents:
Newspaper Articles, Editorials, Letters and other Documents:

Many of these links are to documents on my own web site – if any of them are broken they can be fixed. Others are direct links to the original media sites. If those sites remove their documents all I can do is delete the links. In either case, please inform me of broken links via e-mail (bottom of this page). Documents for which no size is listed are generally small and will present no problems even for dial-up users.

John R. Sweet, Mustoe, VA

Part of the Backbone Mountain project in Tucker County, WV. These are reported to be 345 feet high (not 285 as previously stated here) while those proposed for Highland are expected to be 400 feet high.   Photo by Sandy Hevener, who also provided the photo for the title block.