In the following commentary, Pamela and Arthur Dodds question the effectiveness of state agencies responsible to oversee the permitting process for industrial wind plants:
As presented in April 23, 2010 “Wind Action” editorial, in 2009, residents in Sheffield, Vermont, appealed the NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) stormwater permit issued by Vermont to First Wind, LLC for their industrial-scale wind turbine construction project. “The appellants argued that First Wind failed to identify the full extent of the area of disturbance, impacts to streams and stream biota, and violated the VT Water Quality Standards.” These concerns resonate with residents in Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania where state agencies have approved deficient NPDES applications for industrial-scale wind turbine construction projects. Specifically, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has allowed a deficient NPDES stormwater management plan, approved by the Highland County Board of Supervisors, for the Highland New Wind Development project in Highland County, Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) approved a deficient NPDES stormwater management plan for AES Laurel Mountain in Randolph and Barbour Counties, West Virginia and also for Pinnacle Knob Wind Force in Mineral County, West Virginia. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is considering approval of the deficient NPDES permit application for an industrial-scale wind turbine construction project in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.
In 2009, residents in Randolph and Barbour Counties strongly commented and requested a public hearing concerning the deficient NPDES application submitted to the WVDEP by AES Laurel Mountain, LLC. The WVDEP approved the NPDES permit; then, residents appealed the case to the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board. Deficiencies include failure to delineate the sub-watersheds that will be impacted by the project, failure to protect headwater areas and streams that will be impacted by construction, and failure to use representative runoff coefficients in the stormwater discharge calculations.
The construction of industrial-scale wind turbines on forested mountain ridges will result in cumulative negative impacts to our regional water resources. The forested mountain ridges are the areas which receive the greatest amounts of precipitation and therefore serve as the most important areas for groundwater recharge and for maintenance of aquatic habitats in the headwaters of streams that are at the base of the aquatic food chain. The reduction of groundwater recharge in the forested mountain ridges will ultimately result in drought conditions throughout the watershed. Forested ridges are our greatest defense against drought. The overhead trees on the mountain ridges intercept rainfall so that it gently penetrates the ground as groundwater rather than flowing overland as runoff. This means that 1) the rain will gently fall to the ground and recharge groundwater and 2) the surface flow of rainwater on the ground will be slower than in cleared areas, thereby reducing the velocity and quantity of stormwater drainage. Conversely, where development occurs on forested ridges or where there are numerous roads constructed on forested ridges, the protective tree canopy is lost, the stormwater flow is greater in the cleared areas, groundwater is intercepted by road construction, and increased stormwater drainage results in habitat destruction within streams and the consequent death of aquatic organisms.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which authorizes government agencies within most states to be the state authority to approve or disapprove NPDES permits, is mandated by the Government and Performance Results Act to document successes of the NPDES program. The EPA strategic plan to accomplish this specifies implementation of the watershed approach to managing NPDES permits. However, the state authorities have been granting NPDES permits based on deficient, misrepresentative information. State Watershed Assessment programs have also been totally dismissed in the granting of the NPDES permit to industrial-scale wind turbine construction projects. The approval of deficient, misrepresentative NPDES permits indicates that rather than being effective regulatory agencies, the state authorities have simply opted to be the permitting agencies.
Pamela and Arthur Dodds
Pamela C. Dodds, Ph.D., is a Registered Professional Geologist who has worked as a geologist/hydrogeologist for the Virginia DOT, Virginia DEQ, and an environmental firm near Bristol, Tennessee. She has concentrated on groundwater contamination investigations and is currently conducting hydrological investigations in watersheds which will be impacted by industrial-scale wind turbine projects and by extensive high voltage transmission lines. Dr. Dodds is also certified by the West Virginia DNR as a Master Naturalist. Mrs. Dodds serves as Treasurer of the Laurel Mountain Preservation Association.
Arthur W. Dodds, Jr., is a professional cartographer who worked for NOAA as a supervisor managing the instrument approach procedures charts for airports throughout the U.S. His credentials include training and management concerning the heights of objects which could impact flight patterns; electromagnetic field impacts on RADAR; and viewshed analysis. Mr. Dodds is also certified by the West Virginia DNR as a Master Naturalist. Mr. Dodds serves as President of the Laurel Mountain Preservation Association.