Study to Look at Environmental Effects of Wind Farms in WV

Wed December 28, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

CHARLESTON, WV (AP) Wind power is an emerging energy industry in West Virginia and its impact on the environment should be considered before it is fully embraced, Rep. Alan Mollohan said Dec. 13.

“We need to anticipate all of the benefits as well as the consequences, and fashion policy on the front end,” the 1st District Democrat said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

On Dec. 14, researchers with the National Research Council were in Charleston as part of a Mollohan-sought study on issues surrounding the location and development of wind power farms in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Mollohan’s interest in wind energy has grown in recent years as developers have targeted the ridgetops in his northern West Virginia district for wind farms. One 44-turbine wind farm has been in operation for about three years in Tucker County and there are plans for at least two more in the area.

While wind power is one of the fastest-growing sources of renewable energy, Mollohan and others have raised questions about the number of bats and birds that have been killed by the turbines’ whirling blades, and how the 200-ft. tall towers destroy scenic views.

A report released earlier this year on the Tucker County installation estimated that up to 2,000 bats may have been killed during a one-month period in 2004.

“There are going to be hundreds of them in the next couple of years built without any regard for these consequences,” Mollohan said.

Mollohan, and fellow West Virginia Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall, asked the General Accounting Office in 2004 to study wind farms. In September, the GAO concluded that the federal government offers minimal oversight in approving wind power farms, leaving decision-making at the state and local levels. The report also found that those regulators may lack expertise in weighing the impact of such developments on birds and bats.

The Public Service Commission is charged with overseeing wind farm development in West Virginia and Mollohan said the agency lacks any objective criteria to approve the siting of such developments.

Recently, the PSC clarified its position that wind farm developers must certify that they have met certain environmental conditions prior to starting construction. Developers also must notify the commission if their projects are cited for environmental violations.

The National Research Council’s study is not related to the GAO’s study. The independent review will look at the industry’s impact on the environment, viewsheds, wildlife and water resources. The goal is to improve the siting of such projects.

“We are not in the business to develop policy,” council staffer Ray Wassel said Dec. 13. The study will “examine the scientific and technical aspects to arrive at policy issues.”

A spokesman of a coalition of wind farm developers in West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia said the industry welcomes the study.

“Wind energy is a clean, renewable resource that reduces global warming and requires no fuel supply,” said Frank Maisano. “While no form of energy development is without consequences, it is important to be mindful of these benefits, as well as the value of the energy it supplies, when examining the impacts of wind energy.”

The council expects to release a draft of its study next December.

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