Coal, New Projects, Wind

Local people getting angry with opponents of wind project in WV

MOUNT STORM, W.V., June 13, 2003 — The landowners leasing land to the NedPower Mount Storm wind project in Grant County, WV have filed “Friends of the Court” briefs with the WV Supreme Court.

They were not alone. The Grant County Commission, Grant County Board of Education and the Labor Union also filed “Friends of the Court” briefs. In their briefs, they ask the Court to reject the project opponents’ claim that they did not get a fair hearing from the Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC recently issued a Certificate of Convenience to NedPower giving the company the go ahead with the project, subject to a number of conditions.

The people in Mt Storm are getting angry with the project’s opponents, which they say is just a small elitist bunch of people with weekend homes in the area, which can care less about Grant County’s jobs and economy.

Mt Storm is on top of the WV Alleghenies and known for its rugged mountain people; coal miners, loggers and small farmers who settled in the area in the 1800s. Winters are harsh and long and snow occurs as late as June. Mt Storm is now building a reputation as one of the windiest areas on the East coast, as evidenced by the proposed 300 MW wind farm under development by NedPower.

The people of Mt hope to benefit from the project through property taxes, jobs and lease payments to the local landowners. They are eagerly looking forward to the new jobs the project is expected to create, given the lack of much economic activity and the local coal industry declining. This week one of the last remaining coalmines closed its doors. Local landowners expect over $600,000 per year in royalties and local schools expect $75,000 per year in royalties. Property taxes are estimated at over $500,000 per year, which would put the company in the top 5 property tax payers, according to Ralph Luyton, the local tax assessor.

But all that will be taken away, if it is up to a small group of people opposing the project. They claim the project would mar the landscape and harm nature and the local economy. This enrages Mark Nicol, one of the local landowners.

“I don’t know what these people are talking about,” he says. “You can see and hear the bulldozers scraping the land for coal within half a mile of the project. Besides, there is already a huge power plant with 800 feet high smoke stacks, not even 2 miles from the project. The 400 acres I am leasing to NedPower is an old abandoned strip mine, which is good for nothing else. Nothing will grow there. I have two jobs, school principal and farmer, and I can use any extra income to pay my bills.”

It is not just the landowners who support the project. “An overwhelming majority of the people in Grant County is supporting the project”, says Mr. Charles Goldizen, Grant County Commissioner. “That should come as no surprise, considering what the project will do for the local economy. Clean energy is something we should be supporting”.

The opposition seems unmoved by these kinds of arguments. In fact, it claims that the wind turbines would be in the middle of pristine nature and be noisy and light the skies like Ferris Wheels. A claim hard to justify it seems. When visiting the area, you know you are in coal country with coal trucks driving on and off and many old strip mines in clear view.

The presence of the 1500 MW Mt Storm power plant is overwhelming, all light up at night and spewing smoke during the day from huge smoke stacks. A visit to the nearby Mountaineer wind farm in Tucker County, shows indeed large turbines (over 300 feet tall) turning slowly, but with little noise and few lights, certainly far fewer than the power plant or a typical communication tower.

The opposition’s claim that the project would harm the local economy and tourism seems equally far-fetched. In fact, Tucker County officials are talking about setting up a tourist information center right next to the Mountaineer wind farm to benefit from the many visitors who pull of the road to look at the wind turbines.

One of the other landowners, Mr. David Kline says he is not going to be fooled by the opposition.

“These people are just a few weekenders who don’t give a hoot about the local economy or the people of Grant County,” he says. “They just don’t like the looks of it. It is as simple as that. While most of us land owners are local, have been living and working here for generations, and need to work hard for our money, these people think they can dictate what we can do here. That is easy to say when all they have here is a weekend home and no children going to school here or looking for a job. I have been a coal miner for close to 40 years and would like to retire, but can not afford the health insurance ($8,000 per year). The turbines on my land could pay for that and enable me to retire. What is wrong with that?”

He continues to say that most of the landowners are like him, local and blue- collar workers or farmers and that the land owners should unite to be heard and perhaps even sue the people who he feels are trampling on the landowners’ right to make a living. It is clear that the landowners are getting angry and may have a point.