Maybe it’s just me, but when one of the major considerations of a multi-million dollar project is the plan to tear it down and sell it for scrap, I get a little queasy. It strikes me as similar to putting the disposal instructions on the wrapper of a pack of AA batteries.
Believe me, I understand the need for planning ahead. Some of the projects I’ve worked on in my past were 5 to 15 years from concept to completion. While decommissioning was certainly a factor, it seemed more an internal, contractual issue to be resolved by some predetermined industry standard.
If the general public had a fight about the nuclear or hydro or coal-fired plant planned for next door, the major topic of conversation was not centered on who was going to pay to take it away. The fight typically focused on whether it should be built next to “me,” or could you put it in some other “neighbor’s” yard.
So why all the bluster about wind turbines? Why are the folks seeing them placed in their midst so nervous about who’s going to pay to take them down and the owners seem so reluctant to a straight-forward agreement to put the cash up front. Could be that they both realize, with the relatively short life span, they’ll probably both be around to see it happen?
But then, maybe it’s an image problem. Power plants are massive and speak to a certain permanence – a real commitment. Wind farms seem so … well… portable – temporary. And yes, I know they cost a lot of money. But its kinda like camping. Some folks like to pitch a tent and some folks buy land and build a cabin at the river. Yes, it might be a really expensive tent and both groups will catch fish and have a great time, but you’re more likely to bump into the cabin owners when you come back next year.
Unfair? Perhaps! But then there is that little commitment issue still remaining. Take a look at the Pinnacle Knob wind farm proposed by US WindForce. The facility is awaiting an evidentiary hearing by the WV PSC as the next step toward construction on a ridge near Keyser, Mineral County, WV. After all the back and forth, some in the community are still very concerned by the unclear position US WindForce is taking to insure funds will be available for removal of the turbines at the end of their life, some 20 years from now. The bounce around between the company, citizen’s groups and the state and local agencies responsible to protect the public is causing nothing but confusion and adding to the mistrust surrounding the project.
Take for example, the comments made recently by Ms. Judy O’Hara, representing the citizen’s group, Allegheny Front Alliance, at a Mineral County Commission meeting concerning the proposed Pinnacle Knob wind farm. The Mineral Daily News-Tribune noted that Ms. O’Hara centered most of her comments around the issue of decommissioning or removal of the turbines once they have reached the end of their useful life.
Questioning whether U.S. Wind Force would make good on their promise to set aside enough money to allow for the removal of the old turbines, she expressed her displeasure that, while Wind Force representatives had said “decommissioning is typically addressed as part of the leasing process,” the leases are considered private documents and are not released to the public.
The article stated that David Friend and Jim Cookman, representing U.S. Wind Force, were present at the commission meeting for the Allegheny Front Alliance presentation, but made no comment.
So, why didn’t Mr. Friend or Mr. Cookman hop up out of their seats and set the record straight. They said nothing. Why is it like pulling teeth to have wind farm developers simply say, “Yep, as part of our good neighbor policy and to show you good folks how much we appreciate you allowing us to use your community to make a ton of money, we’re going to set aside the full amount of money required to get rid of these things when they no longer work! It’s the least we can do!”
How hard is that? ZAP!, to use an electrical term, and one of the major bones of contention evaporates and the parties can get down to the serious business of determining if the project serves any real value to the community in which it’s placed and the consumers it will serve.
Some might think this issue is settled, or perhaps it’s not a big deal and in the end it will just all work out. But, until the ink is dry on a commitment that will demonstrate to our children 20 years from now that we did all we could to protect them, this issue is not settled.
In my opinion, Mineral County Commissioners voting to endorse this project without these assurances being iced are not acting responsibly. The specific Commissioner who voted to endorse by offering this reasoning “I’ve read all there is to read about this. We’ve studied and studied and studied it. “No matter what we do, we’re not going to make everybody happy. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that we need jobs and we need the taxes” might want to reconsider that incredible statement.
I don’t know, but it seems to me that until wind farm constructors and operators step up to the level of commitment necessary to insure no financial harm will come to this community, the public is right to see them as them as the AA batteries of the industry, and not the first class providers of a committed energy source consumers should rely upon.
These turbines are going to come down! Someone will pay! If you’re around when they do you’ll probably hear your offspring say one of two things: “hey, thanks!” or “what a dope!” You choose!
And if, as David Friend, vice president of sales and marketing for WindForce, says, “We’re trying to show the commissioners and the public that we’re trying to be good neighbors,” now would be the time to step up and prove it. Their silence on this topic is deafening.
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