Court Thwarts Wind Farm Foes

Mon August 31, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Brian Farkas




CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) The West Virginia Supreme Court on June 3 declined to hear an appeal by a group seeking to stop construction of a wind farm intended to meet anticipated power demands across the Mid-Atlantic.

The court’s unanimous action lets stand the state Public Service Commission’s (PSC) approval of AES Laurel Mountain’s request for a certificate to build a 65-turbine wind farm along 8 mi. of ridgeline in Barbour and Randolph counties. The commission refused in March to reconsider an approval it had given the project last November.

The group Laurel Mountain Preservation Association appealed the PSC’s decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the plant wasn’t needed and the power generated wouldn’t benefit West Virginians.

The proposed $250 million project would produce about 1,500 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power up to 135,000 homes. The power would be used to provide electricity to a 13-state electrical grid managed by PJM Interconnection.

“Need is the pivotal issue here,’’ said association lawyer Bradley Stephens told the court.

Stephens also argued the PSC “cherry picked’’ information from public hearings and filings to support its decision while excluding other pertinent issues. He argued the agency failed to properly consider noise from the turbines, the affect on local wildlife and how the turbines would harm scenic views.

PSC lawyer Leslie Anderson argued the agency considered all the information offered. She added that the wind farm would bring change to the area and “there really is no such thing as change without consequences.’’

Although several justices said they didn’t want to get into a policy debate on the merits of wind energy, Chief Justice Brent Benjamin asked Anderson if the project was given extra emphasis because it could be classified as “green’’ energy.

As the nation’s No. 2 coal producing state, more than 90 percent of the electricity produced in West Virginia comes from burning coal.

Anderson said the PSC rules don’t differentiate between different types of power plants.

Concerning the need for more power to meet future demand, Justice Menis Ketchum asked Anderson why couldn’t a coal-burning plant could just burn more coal.

“It isn’t about replacing one form of energy over another,’’ she said. The state needs a variety of energy generating resources, she added.

West Virginia has two operating wind farms and the AES project is one of three others proposed.