Wild Virginia

Wild Virginia recognizes the need to shift to renewable energy sources for producing electricity in the United States. The environmental benefits of moving away from fossil fuels, nuclear power and other common sources of generating electricity are numerous and significant. We support many of the efforts now in place to make such a shift. In fact, Wild Virginia joined many other organizations in signing the Renewable Electricity Statement of Principles that was sent to all members of U.S. Congress in June, 2007. The statement calls for renewable sources of energy to produce 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2020.
Wind energy should, and hopefully will be a major component of America’s renewable energy portfolio. As with almost any large scale development, great care should be taken in the planning process before projects are undertaken. This is true of potential wind energy development in high elevation areas of the Appalachian Mountains generally, and the George Washington National Forest in particular.
The need for caution is due to the number of uncertainties and potential environmental problems associated with wind farms and large turbines. Some of these include: • Impacts to birds. Very little reliable data exists on how much direct mortality may occur (i.e., collisions between flying birds and the turbine blades) and the effects on bird populations. The ridge lines (where the turbines would be sited) often serve as flight paths for migratory birds. • Impacts to bats. Even less is known about potential impacts to bats than is known for birds. • Forest loss and fragmentation. The presence of turbine sites, transmission line corridors, and access roads results in the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of forest habitat. Given the often harsh environmental conditions along mountain ridge lines, these forest communities may be more sensitive to disturbance.
There are also concerns beyond environmental ones. Some of these are: • Privatization of public resources. The concept of private developers using public lands for personal gain is objectionable to many citizens. Wild Virginia generally opposes the idea in the absence of a compelling need for it. Private lands should be the site for private developments. • Practical and logistical issues. Questions have been raised about the utility of building wind farms in the Appalachians. Coastlines and other areas closer to population centers that have already been compromised with significant human activity and are closer to high voltage power lines are preferable. They are also where the need and demand for electricity is greater.
A wind energy project, like any industrial scale development on public lands, must be fully reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act. Each wind energy project is unique and must be considered on it merits on a case-by-case basis. All of the issues listed above must be fully addressed. In addition, some areas of the George Washington National Forest should be off limits to wind energy development projects entirely. These are Wilderness areas, Road less Areas, Special Biological Areas, and drinking watersheds. Wild Virginia supports renewable energy production and a shift away fossil fuels and nuclear power. Wind power is an important part of that shift.

WV Highland Conservancy

CONSERVANCY SHIFTS POLICY ON WIND ENERGY

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Board of Directors has made a significant shift in its policy on wind energy projects. Instead of focusing only on a proposed project’s impact upon the natural environment, the policy now will broaden the focus to include consideration of the role of the wind energy in overall energy policy.  This shift appears in the policy adopted at the April 20 Board meeting: The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy opposes all large, utility scale wind energy projects in West Virginia unless it is demonstrated that the power to be produced by the project would replace power which otherwise would be generated through the burning of coal.
Previous policy had focused on such things as aesthetic values, danger to birds and bats, etc. That policy had been influenced by the unspoken assumption that electricity produced by wind farms would, at least to some extent, replace electricity produced by the burning of coal. Recently, enough doubt has been cast on that proposition so that it can no longer be taken for granted.
Any energy production has a social and environmental cost. Wind farms can damage scenic views, kill birds and bats, diminish property values, and fragment forests. The mining, transportation, and burning of coal can damage or destroy streams, cause blasting damage, pollute the air, obliterate forests, and endanger the lives and health of miners and nearby residents. Production of energy by other means may be more benign or less so but there is always some cost.

One of the appealing features of wind power has always been that it produces none of the air or water pollution associated with coal. No carbon dioxide, no sulfur dioxide, no mercury, no acid mine drainage, nothing. Were it replacing coal, then wind would be highly attractive under some circumstances. To determine a position on any project, we would still have to consider its impact upon wildlife and those who live nearby but it would be worth a look.
This is what the Highlands Conservancy has done in the past. It was active in developing siting standards that the West Virginia Public Service Commission uses to evaluate proposed projects and make permitting decisions. These standards were listings of information that a project developer had to submit and the Public Service Commission had to evaluate. The Conservancy has always supported careful consideration of those of the information submitted as a way to allow wind energy development while still minimizing the costs to society and the environment. It had always hoped that a strict adherence to those standards and careful evaluation by the Public Service Commission would diminish the social costs of wind energy enough that it could support it.
Because the costs in terms of stream loss, water and air pollution, etc. associated with coal were always so great, wind power was an attractive alternative. No matter what the social costs of wind, they always pale when compared with those of coal.
If, on the other hand, the wind energy does not replace coal, then there is less justification for suffering the costs to society associated with wind. We might, for example, more easily tolerate the deaths of birds
at wind farms if this meant that less of the bird habitat destruction inherent in coal mining took place. We might tolerate some inconvenience to those who lived near wind farms if that meant some relief for those who lived near coal mines. If the destruction to the land and misery to the people who live near coal mines still goes on whether there are wind farms or not, there is less reason to tolerate the social costs of wind power.
There has recently been considerable evidence presented that for most or many proposed or operational projects, wind energy fails to replace coal to a significant degree. Admittedly, most of the material we have thus far studied comes from the literature of Wind Farm Opposition1 or that of Public Energy Policy Analysis2. The engineering literature is difficult and we are still making first steps at penetrating it. However, what we have learned already seems sufficient to ask for an affirmative determination that coal will be replaced as a per-condition for our support of any particular project.
This new position will have an immediate effect upon Highlands Conservancy action. In its promotion of its proposed Laurel Mountain wind project, near Elkins, AES LLC has freely admitted that no coal burning will be replaced. Because of this, we are applying the new resolution by submitting a Letter of Protest to the WV Public Service Commission. This letter was still in progress at the time the Voice went to press.

Virginia Forest Watch

Virginia Forest Watch Wind Energy Policy

Global climate change is a significant and potentially life-altering phenomenon for all forms of life. Rising temperatures are implicated in rising sea levels, rapid changes in habitat and potential worldwide extinctions of flora and fauna. At the same time, accelerating destruction of wildlife habitat is also a global crisis. It is therefore imperative that global climate change be addressed in ways that do not further eliminate or reduce wildlife habitat. Virginia Forest Watch strongly supports shifting to renewable energy sources for production of electricity in the United States. However, because forests sequester carbon and are therefore important in mitigating climate change, as well as conferring many other benefits such as clean air, water, and native biodiversity, we do not support industrial-scale energy alternatives that destroy, degrade or fragment existing forests. In particular, Virginia Forest Watch opposes the current trend in industrial-scale wind turbine development on public lands. The development of wind factory sites, transmission line corridors, and very wide access roads result in the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of forest habitat; erosion and sedimentation of streams; continuing, long-term wildlife fatalities and injuries; noise and light pollution for large swaths of surrounding areas; and permanent net-loss to forested carbon storage. The Appalachian Mountains in Virginia are well documented as having many globally unique, rare, threatened or endangered plant and animal species and communities, for which public lands are becoming the last refuge from human development. The development of ridge-top forest habitats will prevent species from moving to higher elevations in response to global warming, which leaves them no alternative except extinction. In addition to environmental concerns, Virginia Forest Watch objects to exploitation of public lands for private profit. With regard to national forests, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 states that “it is the policy of the Congress that the national forests are established and shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.” This does not include massive commercial ventures for private profit that threaten most other uses of the national forest. We believe Virginia’s healthiest future lies in implementing policies for energy conservation, increased efficiency, and green building techniques at every governmental level, and with methods of decentralized energy generation using locally-available renewable resources such as solar and small/appropriate-scale wind mills for individuals, farms and businesses, and communities.

Virginia Conservation Network

Statement of the Issue

Wind energy is a carbon-free, homegrown renewable energy option of great potential in Virginia. Wind energy projects are increasing in number around the country, in part because of tax incentives and other subsidies provided for wind energy projects. Advocates for clean energy, greenhouse gas reductions, and energy security embrace wind energy since it is a renewable domestic energy source. Virginia Conservation Network supports the use of both small scale and industrial wind to meet future energy needs of the Commonwealth, but recognizes that industrial wind projects are largely unregulated. No federal or state siting permit is currently required for these industrial wind facilities on land and the permitting procedure for offshore projects is now in development by the federal Mineral Management Service. Current reviews conducted for projects occurring on federal lands may be inadequate to protect significant resources in the Commonwealth. Virginia needs to develop an effective state review and approval process to allow for projects that eliminate and/or significantly reduce impacts of industrial wind projects to wildlife, contiguous forested areas, and other natural, cultural, and historic resources of the Commonwealth. This process should give consideration to cumulative benefits and adverse impacts of proposed industrial wind projects. Having such a review process in place for all industrial wind projects will allow Virginia to identify areas where projects are suitable, encouraging development of renewable energy while ensuring that Virginia’s natural and cultural resources are not destroyed in the process.

Background

Capture3All forms of energy create environmental impacts. Though much less destructive than traditional sources of fossil fuel generation, industrial wind turbines are very large structures that may be hundreds of feet tall. Developers of wind energy need sites where conditions are favorable: often along mountainous ridge tops and offshore locations. In Virginia, these locations are sometimes areas of great ecological sensitivity, provide the Commonwealth’s most spectacular scenery and recreational opportunities, and may include cultural and historic resources of great value. Current projects being discussed are as tall as 500 feet and if improperly sited, could negatively impact wildlife populations, such as birds and bats. In addition to addressing onshore siting concerns, it will be critical to develop appropriate review of offshore wind projects. Coastal wind resources may provide the greatest potential for Virginia. Consequently, a review process will be necessary to protect the value of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s coastal resources in a way that encourages industrial wind projects where they can be built without harm to the ecology and character of these areas. As Virginia encourages the development of renewable energy to address issues of climate change and to transition to cleaner forms of energy, the need to protect the remarkable natural, scenic, historic, and cultural resources that shape our quality of life is widely recognized. Valuable research has been done which can assist Virginia in developing a process to responsibly accommodate industrial wind development. In recent years, a Landscape Classification System to encourage siting of industrial projects was developed by a working group, which included conservationists and scientists, under the auspices of the Virginia Wind Energy Collaborative (VWEC), an affiliation of wind energy advocates. The VWEC had the goal of developing a report in consultation with agency and organizational representatives. Two separate reports were published ( www.vawind.org/ Assets/Docs/LCS-100805.pdf; http:// vwec.cisat.jmu.edu/gis_lcs.htm ). Considered together, these two reports provide valuable research and guidance that will aid and expedite the development of a Virginia review process. Under the Virginia Energy Policy Act of 2006, the considerations of the Landscape Classification System have been expanded to consider natural, cultural, and historic resources. This is in an effort to provide a Virginia Renewable Site Scoring System and is being conducted by James Madison University under contract by the Department of Mines Minerals and Energy. But current efforts have failed to involve important stakeholders and will likely overlook some general concerns and specific sensitive resources. Given the potential environmental benefits of new wind development proposals, it is necessary to have an effective process for locating industrial wind projects in places with sufficient wind while protecting ecologically sensitive, scenic, and historic resources.

VCN has reviewed many policies that could assist the Commonwealth in its pursuit of a clean energy future and share the following examples as ones inclusive of the issues that must be addressed:
1) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed interim guidelines for onshore wind generation projects: www.fws.gov/ habitatconservation/wind.pdf . The recommendations within this document appear to address many concerns in likely wind projects.

2) In addition, the National Academy of Sciences established an expert committee to carry out a scientific study of the environmental impacts of wind-energy projects, focusing on the Mid-Atlantic Highlands as an example. The study considered adverse and beneficial effects and developed an analytical framework for evaluating those effects that can inform siting decisions and provide guidance on how to reduce or mitigate negative environmental impacts. The report is available at: www.nap.edu/ openbook.php?isbn=0309108349.

3) The national Sierra Club also has a balanced approach to considering industrial wind projects and has developed a wind siting advisory policy: www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/ wind_siting.asp.