National Forest Proposal Denied

FreedomWorks LLC is one among several corporations considering wind project development on or adjacent national forest land

Freedom Works proposed construction of 131 440-foot wind turbines along an 18-mile stretch of national forest ridge line in Shenandoah and Rockingham Counties (VA) and Hardy County (WV). The proposed project area is identified as unsuitable for commercial wind development in the Revised George Washington National Forest Management Plan.

On April 2, 2009, Maureen Hyzer, Forest Supervisor for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, denied Freedom Works’ proposal to construct meteorological towers to collect preliminary data required for the wind project. The rejection letter to Freedom Works lists a number of concerns about the project.

Among those concerns (paraphrased here):

  • The project would require at least 16 miles of road construction.
  • The project would require at least 500 acres of permanent forest clearing in an area with limited human activity that currently provides remote habitat for wildlife.
  • The project would visually dominate the landscape of Great North Mountain and the adjacent Shenandoah Valley.
  • The project would potentially exacerbate the threat to bat populations that are now being killed in large numbers by White Nose Syndrome.

As indicated in a letter to “Interested Citizens” from James T. Smalls, District Ranger of the Lee Ranger District, the Freedom Works proposal did not comply with the Forest Plan and it did not provide sufficient rational for use of national forest land.

UPDATE (1): An article in the Northern Virginia Daily (041109) indicates that the developer intends to circumvent the local Forest Service decision by seeking approval at the national level.

UPDATE (2): An article in the Daily News Record (042209) includes two significant errors concerning the Freedom Works proposal.

First, the article falls for the exaggerated PR claims of Appalachian wind developers by comparing the capacity of the proposed Freedom Works project (215 MW) with Dominion’s Wise County coal-fired power plant (580 MW) –suggesting that the the proposed wind project could produce almost 40% as much electricity as Dominion’s plant.

Electricity generation, however, is properly quantified in terms of megawatt hours, not megawatts. Because of the low capacity factor of wind turbines on Appalachian ridges, wind projects only produce a small fraction of their theoretical generation.

The Freedom Works proposal involves 131 2-MW turbines and would require 18 miles of ridge line. It would require 2,260 2-MW turbines to match the output of the proposed Wise County coal-fired generating plant in August (the peak demand period of the year). That would require about 323 miles of ridge line, about the length of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain in Virginia.

Second, the article quotes the developer, stating that, except for the Forest Service permit, the project has all the permits it needs, including a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is not correct. The project will need both state and local permits, which it does not have, before it can go forward.

Moreover, because of the threat to endangered bats and raptors, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly recommended that central Appalachian region wind project developers prepare Habitat Conservation Plans and obtain Incidental Take Permits as required by the Endangered Species Act. To date, no developers have complied.