What follows is a refreshingly thorough article on the pending decision by the West Virginia Public Service Commission regarding the US WindForce LLC application to construct industrial wind turbines on the Allegheny Front above Keyser, WV.
We compliment the excellent reporting which covered both sides of the argument fairly. This in depth and well studied reporting is a very welcome change for our community.
Federal court decision on similar development could impact all of Allegheny Front
KEYSER, W.Va. — The West Virginia Public Service Commission is scheduled to issue a decision in the next few days on a wind energy developer’s application to build wind turbines in Mineral County.
The deadline for the decision is Monday, but it could come as soon as the end of this week, according to commission spokeswoman Sarah Robertson.
Pinnacle Wind Force, a subsidiary of Greensburg, Pa.-based US Wind Force, filed an application March 17 for a permit to build up to 23 wind turbines, spaced about 750 feet apart, along the spine of Green Mountain a few miles west of Keyser. The project has been in development since 2002.
“I think the important thing is that this is developing another resource in the region that is beneficial for the environment, but also communities that are struggling right now,” said Frank Maisano, spokesman for the wind energy industry. “It’s not a matter of displacing or replacing coal or nuclear or things like that. But it’s a matter of taking a project that you can develop where it makes sense … and adding it to the grid to make that pool of power a little bit cleaner.”
The planned wind farm has the capacity to generate 169 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. The electricity generated by the wind farm will be sold into the PJM regional transmission grid, which serves 13 states and Washington, D.C.
The land for the project has been leased from private landowners, and a substantial portion from NewPage Corp. — six of the 23 turbines are planned to be built near its Luke mill. NewPage has tentative plans to become a Pinnacle customer by purchasing renewable energy credits from the wind farm to power its Luke administration and engineering buildings, according to company spokeswoman Patsy Koontz.
If the Public Service Commission approves the permit, there’s potential for the project to begin construction by the end of the summer or the following spring. But a recent court decision on another West Virginia wind project has the potential to impact work on Pinnacle — and possibly, wind power development along the entire Allegheny Front.
In early December, a federal judge halted the expansion of the Beech Ridge Wind Farm in Greenbrier County, after the Public Service Commission had approved the project’s permit and later denied an opposition group’s motion to reconsider the approval.
Construction had already begun on 40 wind turbines of the planned 122 at Beech Ridge, and U.S. District Judge Roger Titus ruled that those could be completed. But opponents’ protests that the project could harm an endangered species, the Indiana bat, convinced Titus to prevent further work on the project until the developer receives an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Without that permit, the wind farm would be operating in violation of the Endangered Species Act, Titus ruled, stating that the 40 turbines already built at Beech Ridge can now only operate in winter when the bats are hibernating.
Bat mortality at wind farms has been documented and experts attribute it to two causes — bats colliding with the turbines, and also an effect called barotrauma, in which sudden changes in air pressure caused by the spinning turbines cause bats to suffer a condition that in humans is known as “the bends.”
US Wind Force hired environmental engineering and consulting firm BHE Environmental Inc. to conduct bat population surveys and wildlife impact studies as part of its application process for the Public Service Commission permit. Karen Tyrell, senior vice president of the company, testified May 26 to the commission that no Indiana bats were found in the project area, and the project’s risk to all bat species is considered low. Similarly, Mike Sponsler, also of BHE Environmental, testified that the project’s risk to rare, threatened or endangered reptiles and amphibians is “considered minimal.”
But Tyrell and BHE also performed similar evaluations in the stalled Beech Ridge project, and opponents of Pinnacle point to the court’s evaluation of their testimony in that case. Tyrell’s credibility as a witness was declared “diminished” because “her principal function is to actively market BHE’s services to the wind power industry, and she is closely involved with the American Wind Energy Association, an advocacy group for the wind power industry,” court documents stated.
Pamela Dodd, a registered professional geologist critical of wind energy development projects at Beech Ridge and Pinnacle, told the Mineral County Commission in July that her research has shown bat and bird mortality from turbines has been estimated at 32 per megawatt produced per year, adding up to about 1,766 annually with the 55 megawatt Pinnacle project.
Maisano and David Friend, US Wind Force vice president of sales and marketing, said Mineral County has a lot at stake in the success of the Pinnacle permit in terms of potential economic benefits. The project will create about 150 to 200 temporary construction jobs and six permanent jobs to operate the facility. The construction will be completed by a general contractor, but Pinnacle has an agreement with local labor unions to use their manpower as much as possible, Friend said.
In addition to a handful of jobs, the project stands to provide some economic boost to Mineral County in the form of local taxes. The county is guaranteed an annual minimum of $250,000 from Pinnacle, based on a contract agreement approved by the county commissioners in October and contingent on the construction of 23 turbines. Friend said Pinnacle’s yearly county taxes will probably be much higher than the minimum, averaging $433,000 annually over 25 years.
Contact Megan Miller at email@example.com.