Wind project developer seeks to avoid wildlife protection measures

The Virginia State Corporation Commission is hearing testimony on the proposed Highland New Wind project on Tuesday, July 17, at its Richmond office building. If the Highland County project goes forward, it will be Virginia’s first utility-scale wind project.

Highland New Wind is testifying that it cannot afford wildlife protections recommended by wildlife agencies, conservation groups, and citizen respondents in the case now before the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

Despite the prospects of government incentives, which would cover the majority of development costs, it remains a marginal project, promising negligible benefits and huge environmental costs.

“This project is simply a bad investment for the wind industry and a bad precedent for the Commonwealth,” says Rick Webb, co-manager of Virginia Wind and co-author of a National Academies report on environmental impacts of wind projects. “If it goes forward, it can only damage the concept of green energy.”

The proposed Highland New Wind project would involve twenty 400-foot turbines on two ridges in the Laurel Fork area of Virginia’s least populated county, an area noted for its high mountain scenery and wildlife abundance. Limited studies conducted by the developer indicate that the project site may have the highest numbers of migrating birds and bats among all wind project sites in the eastern United States.

Multiple agencies and organizations have presented testimony about the proposed project to the State Corporation Commission.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service : recommends that wind energy developers avoid wildlife concentration areas, and that development only occur after multi-year and multi-season study of wildlife use. Highland New Wind must obtain a Habitat Conservation Plan required by the Endangered Species Act.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries : indicates that wildlife mortality at the proposed site may exceed that of all other sites in the eastern U.S. and that without effective monitoring and mitigation measures, the project presents “unacceptable risks.” Continuous monitoring for the life of the project should be required, with project curtailment when mortality thresholds are exceeded.

The Nature Conservancy : provides estimates that as many as 64,000 bats will be killed each year given the number of wind turbines projected for construction by 2020 in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands. Unless solutions are found, the proposed Highland New Wind project will contribute to this “intolerable situation.”

Highland Citizens : argues that Highland New Wind “has tried to provide as little information as possible in an effort to manipulate and limit the review process.”

Virginia Wind : estimates that Highland New Wind will provide less than one-tenth of one-percent of the Commonwealth’s annual electricity needs, and even that small amount will not be available during the peak summer demand period when commonly the wind is not blowing.

This project clearly tests the limits of public support for wind development.

Virginia Wind takes the position that meaningful steps must be taken to solve our energy problem and address air pollution and climate change. The Highland New Wind project is a step in the wrong direction.