WHERE DOES THE HIGHLANDS CONSERVANCY STAND ON WIND POWER?
By Peter Shoenfeld
Six wind energy projects have surfaced in West Virginia’s Allegheny Highlands in the last 30 months. This has raised contentious issues for the Conservancy— green power on the one hand vs. visual and suggested ecological impacts on the other. The contention continues, but out of it policy is evolving. I will soon tell you what I think this policy is, but first I want to talk a bit aboutour processes.
The Highlands Voice now reports on Board meetings and other Conservancy policy actions. But it reports many other things as well; editorial policy leans toward publishing whatever members submit. On wind energy, members have a wide range of views, and the Voice has printed these.
Personal pronouncements in the press by Highlands Conservancy officers do not always represent policy either. On wind energy, both our President and Senior Vice President hold strong, often opposing, personal views, and neither has been shy about announcing them.
Conservancy policies are set by its Board of Directors. The leg work is delegated to committees, established by the President. There has been a wind energy committee since 2000, currently chaired by yours truly. This Committee and the Board have been active on wind energy. Policy can be discerned by looking at their actions.
Revew of Committee and Board actions show that current Conservancy policy seems to be this:
- To resist installation of the new, very tall turbines in critical locations where there is extreme adverse visual impact on presently pristine, popularly prized vistas.
- To press for siting regulation and thorough review by responsible public agencies.
- To protect endangered species and prevent major avian impact, to the extent we believe a threat exists.
- Otherwise, to welcome and support wind energy development.
That this is the policy can be seen from the history of Board and Committee actions:
The Committee and Board first challenged, but then supported and now participates in the Backbone Mountain project. The proposition. Since we are not investors, we have little else to contribute.
On the Dominion Power project near Snowy Point, the Committee met once with the developers. They told us their plans, and we told them our concerns. Not long after that they discovered extensive Northern Flying Squirrel habitation on their site, and withdrew their PSC application. That they were influenced in this decision by our and other citizen’s concern for endangered species may be inferred.
The Nedpower Allegheny Front project continues to be extremely contentious within our organization. Our President publicly supports this project, while our Senior Vice President publicly opposes it. In the fall, the Committee negotiated an agreement, similar to what had been done on Backbone. The Board rejected that agreement, but did pass two resolutions that provide policy guidance for the future.
The first resolution stated that the Conservancy “does not support permits for wind power projects that would degrade scenic vistas from Canaan Valley, Dolly Sods, Seneca Rocks, Spruce Knob and other special places in West Virginia.” This is now our policy. True, it does not list all the “special places” or provide a definition of what it takes to “degrade scenic vistas.” But it does provide useful guidance in analyzing proposed projects.
The second resolution demanded “siting criteria including viewshed analysis and full environmental impact analysis.” This was implemented by a “Letter of Conditional Support for Windpower,” sent to the state Public Service Commission. Next came Rich Mountain. All previous projects had been located near the Maryland line, north of almost all of the Monongahela National Forest. But the Rich Mountain site is right in the middle of the northern Mon’s most special places. Rich Mountain is a high, steep, and very visible, ridge, surrounded by the four Wilderness areas (Dolly Sods, Otter Creek, Laurel Fork North and South), the Spruce Knob/Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, and the Roaring Plains special interest area. For this reason, and in keeping with the policy on special places, the Board had no difficulty reaching a decision to accept the Committee’s recommendation to oppose this project.
How our policy will evolve or play out in the future remains to be seen. We do not know where future projects will be proposed. Nor do we have a list of special places ready to compare to such proposals. We are interested in developing a forecast of promising sites for wind projects, and in analyzing their suitability from our perspective. Hopefully, this would free us from acting in a purely reactionary mode and allow us to adopt a more positive stance toward some sites.