Against the Wind: Why Opposition to Wind Turbines on the Allegheny Front Should not be Dimissed as a NIMBY… and other midnight reflections…

I am working this summer for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (WVHC). At some point, visit their website www.wvhighlands.org. My job is to set up informational tables at festivals to spread awareness of mountain top removal and the work WVHC has done and continues to do to stop it. Until recently, I’m reluctant to admit, I was ignorant of the monumental advances the WVHC has made to keep West Virginia wild and wonderful.

The group was formed in the 60s with a mission to save the Potomac Highlands from overdevelopment. It has been instrumental in (among other things) creating the largest wilderness area East of the Mississippi, halting dams that would bury striking rivers and valleys, preventing resorts from dumping sewage in streams, and limiting clearcutting in the area. If you have ever spent time at the Cranberry Glades, Dolly Sods, Seneca Rocks, Spruce Knob, Sinks of Gandy, etc., then you have witnessed the importance of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. If you haven’t been to any of these places, do yourself a favor and go.

In addition to protecting the Eastern Highlands, the WVHC has been on the frontlines in the war against MTR since the beginning. Though strip-mining hasn’t been the biggest threat to the Alleghany Highlands, it IS the biggest threat to most of Central Appalachia. Members of WVHC (especially Cindy Rank and Julian Martin), spent their time in hostile territory to help people trying to save their property from King Coal LONG before the current movement began. 

Cindy Rank offered me a rapid summary:

 It’s not surprising you might not have know about our/WVHC involvement. …..  Once Joe Lovett and the Appalachian Center took on the mantle of legal guru in breaking new ground re: the more recent upsurge in awful mining practices and after our central role in Bragg v Robertson in 1998 (and the EIS to follow), we were fortunate to have OVEC members and a growing number of local citizens beginning to find their voices. 
 
With an evolving local presence when OVEC and Coal River strenthened their efforts to organize local communities and encourage individual citizens to join together to protest and speak out, those groups began to provide more ‘standing’ for litigation that became firmly rooted in the Southern District of WV …… and with that shift the major amount of news focused more directly on OVEC as the headliner on the court cases [OVEC v XXX, etc.].  Media attention began picking up on the individuals that have come out of the woodwork because of the community organizing efforts,  Judy Bonds receiving the Golman Prize elevated CRMW efforts even more….and voila WVHC is still there as a constant, but not so much in the lens of documentary filmmakers or on the frontline of activism by some of the more recently formed movements and coalitions such as Mountain Justice Summer and now SEAC, etc… Other groups from other states also picked up on the growing attention after the EIS and now contribute their own flavor and nuances and energy……. 
 
It seemed like a very long 10 years between WVHC’s first litigation that touched on issues like durable rock fills and contemporaneous reclamation, etc., and Bragg, but then after 1998 more and more people added more and more momentum until you now have a much broader audience and wider base of support.   …..I don’t know that you could call it the critical mass that’s needed to change things in significant ways, but it’s a far cry from what was there all those years that Julian was writing and fighting about it …. and even more than were responsive to Larry Gibson when he spent whole legislative sessions in the early 1990’s trying to get people to come up to his mountain to see what was happening……

Despite WVHC’s intensive work to stop mountain top removal, there is currently a little tension between WVHC and some of the newer MTR fighting organizations, such as Coal River Mountain Watch. It regards WVHC’s freshly revised position on wind energy. The soaring peaks of the Allegheny Highlands in WV have been targeted for their wind energy potential. Here is a sketch of the new policy: 

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

By some accounts, this policy will be further nuanced at the next board meeting. Hopefully, the WVHC will support wind farms if a community wants them. For example, residents in the Coal River Valley are pleading for windmills on their mountain to keep it from being destroyed (Massey wants to strip-mine 10 square miles of Coal River Mountain).  Take a second to visit www.coalriverwind.org to sign their petition or donate to their effort. Please.

WVHC’s new policy has irked some coalfield residents. Their reasoning is simple: Mountain top removal is much more destructive then wind turbines. This argument is undoubtably true…

After reflecting on the small controversy for some time, I have come to support the WVHC policy, primarily because I think West Virginia has already sacrificed enough of its beauty to feed the insatiable “grid.” Why ruin  the last pristine area of the state with unsitely and deadly (for birds and bats) windmills? More importantly,  wind turbines lining the Alleghany Front will only account for a drop in the bucket of our electricity generation; if such windmills would actually reduce mountain top removal, I guarantee you WVHC members would help with their construction. Furthermore, much of the coal mined in Appalachia is metallurgical and not burned for power. Fifty percent doesn’t even stay in America–it is shipped to Asia! Rather than continue to sacrifice West Virginia’s wonderfulness as fodder for the rapacious grid, lets focus on becoming more energy efficient and responsible.

As an environmental VISTA at a community center in southern WV, I calculated that we could cut our building’s electric bill by 40% with a few simple steps: replace lightbulbs with CFLs, turn off lights and computers, set computers to go on standby, rid the bathrooms of air dryers, keep doors closed, and keep the AC at 72 degrees or above. This doesn’t include other energy saving steps like replacing appliances, etc…  The point is, collectively, we can CUT our electricity use dramatically without giving up comfort.

****

 The WVHC has conveniently archived their newspaper here: http://wvhighlands.org/wv_voice/?cat=2.  I have learned so much by reading through the editions. Also, a book detailing the intriguing history of WVHC has just been released. It is called Fighting to Protect the Highlands: The First Forty Years of the West Virginia Highland’s Conservancy.  It is by David Elkinton.

I will leave you with a powerful article published in the May edition of the Highlands Voice.

By George E. Beetham Jr.

People who support wind farms on mountain ridges keep referring to those who oppose them as “NIMBY”, an acronym for Not In My Back Yard. I have to admit to being puzzled why people think everybody who opposes wind in the mountains is either a NIMBY or a wind opponent.

I am neither. I am, if anything, a YIMBY. That is, Yes In My Back Yard. I live in southeastern Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia. Electricity generated in the mountains of West Virginia is marketed in Philadelphia and other major urban centers

I see several problems with this. First and foremost, if the cities are the major users of electricity, and anybody who has visited any East Coast city would have to agree that we are major users, then why shouldn’t the generation facilities be close to where the electricity is used? There are designs for wind turbines that can sit atop skyscrapers, in effect providing the electricity the building needs. Granted, current buildings would have to be retrofitted, but I would prefer to see that instead of wind turbines along Appalachian ridges. Build turbines along the medians of interstates.

I live in the city. I go to the mountains of West Virginia to experience what is left of nature here in the East. Admittedly, there isn’t a whole lot left, but that makes what is left that much more valuable and meaningful. And I submit that its highest and best value is as wilderness, or at least natural.

Transmitting electricity from mountains to cities involves high capacity transmission lines, like TRAIL, which will degrade even more natural land. Further, transmitting wind generated power over long distances is very inefficient. Much of the generated power is lost along the way; only a fraction of it actually gets to the city.

With mountaintop removal devastating wide areas of West Virginia, why in the world would you want to see what little natural areas there are left in the state crowned with wind turbines poking their way above treeline into the sky? Can’t one area of West Virginia remain free of blight? Can’t we have a sliver of wilderness left?

If wind power would stop mountaintop removal, I could understand why people would be for it. But wind will never provide more than a fraction of our electricity needs no matter how many ridges are ruined with towers. There are two things that are generated in the mountains of eastern West Virginia that we sorely need: water and forests that store carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Stripping trees off a ridge and planting wind turbines will have the effect of lessening the water retention capabilities of the mountains, and obviously have negative impacts on global warming.

It’s time for the cities, my back yard, to take on the responsibility for producing the power we over-use. If we are the energy hogs, then we should bear the burden here, in the cities. And if we are not willing to bear the burden, then guess what? The lights should start going out.

It seems to me that for too long development of urban America has plundered the wilds of West Virginia for its needs. It pains me to see native West Virginians pointing fingers at one another, grasping for panaceas for problems they have not created. Wind power is no panacea. It is not going to save one single coal bearing mountain from being plundered. It will never be more than a drop in the bucket if we depend on all the mountain ridges in West Virginia. Build the generation capacity where it will be used. That is the message that West Virginians should be rising up and shouting in unison.

And why would power companies not locate wind generators in cities? Because too many residents, the real NIMBYs,  would object to it and the cost would escalate because of court fights. West Virginians should have enough pride in place to fight for your own back yards and shift the burden back on the people burning the lights all night long. All of West Virginia should rise up and oppose the abortion of mountaintop destruction, done for a few brief hours of power in some city that looks like a Christmas tree on steroids. The problem is my back yard and the solution should not be more blight in West Virginia. We destroyed our natural land long ago. What would a few more wind turbines mean here?

Frankly, West Virginia’s answer to the rest of the country should be to cut us off. The cities are what is destroying West Virginia. The mountains define West Virginia, known after all as the Mountain State. If West Virginia wants to market something, market the mountains as places where people can go to find a piece of nature: hike a trail, fish a stream, look off at ridge after ridge to infinity with no sign of human blight.

Whenever I travel to West Virginia, I cannot help but spend some of my Yankee dollars. Gas, food, lodging, maple syrup, sausage, produce from farms; I leave the Mountain State with less money than I enter it with, trust me. But if all you have to offer is wind turbines stretching from horizon to horizon, or mountaintop destruction, then somebody else is going to get my money.

Mountain ridges are not desert. They are not barren. The rain forests of eastern West Virginia have more value than anybody could imagine. The area is a natural watershed. Water is released slowly, providing water that flows to cities. The oxygen is breathed by millions. The forest is home to amazing creatures and plants that exist nowhere else in the world.

Few of us have any remote idea what amazing things can be found in the rain forests of the Monongahela National Forest. New discoveries pique my curiosity from time to time, things we have not learned in hundreds of years. Those are the things for which we should fight. Those are the things that are protected by wilderness. Those are things that may not be around much longer if we keep industrializing our last remaining eastern wilderness.

That is why I am against wind generation in the West Virginia highlands. I am saying, yes, in my back yard, not in your back yard.

My impression of West Virginia when I made my first trip to your state was that it consisted of endless wilderness that stretched on forever. Sadly that was only an illusion, a fact I now realize as I see wind turbines rearing up above the hills from too many once scenic vistas. I’ve seen mountaintop destruction at Kayford and listened to Larry Gibson and Maria Gunnoe, two eloquent people who can tell us the true cost of this destructive form of coal mining.

I’ve seen that, and I’ve seen wind turbines on the horizon from the Monongahela National Forest. And I wonder to myself, why West Virginians allow people to come into your once beautiful state and rape it. Do West Virginians see the mountains as simply something to be exploited, never mind the cost? I understand the need for economic development. But raping the mountains is not going to increase the standard of living.

Look at the blight of eastern cities. Is that what you want? Do you think urban dwellers are ennobled because of blight? I have to tell you that it has the exact opposite effect. That is why many urban dwellers seek out wilderness, to escape dreary blight. Maybe we’ve found something that West Virginians have forgotten. Maybe we prize nature over industrialization.

At the same time, we urban residents are the reason they’re building wind turbines along ridges in West Virginia, and why they’re blowing up mountains right and left. We should bear the cost, not you. It should be in my back yard, not yours. And you should not be pointing fingers at one another, but at us energy hogs who have no idea of the true human and natural cost of burning lights all night long.

George E. Beetham Jr. is a newspaper editor in Philadelphia, a
former board member of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy,
and a believer that nature has power to heal the human
soul.

Editor’s Note: The illustration accompanying this story is a generic
energy hog. It bears absolutely no resemblance to George
Beetham, living or dead.

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8 Responses to “Against the Wind: Why Opposition to Wind Turbines on the Allegheny Front Should not be Dimissed as a NIMBY… and other midnight reflections…”

  1. Thank you for supporting the Coal River Wind Farm! 🙂

  2. timberlinepresident Says:

    Hi Brad–

    I here you are doing great work for us.

    My name is Peter Shoenfeld, I have served on the WVHC Board for almost 10 years. I am the Wind Energy Chair for WVHC, have been for a number of years, and have served in various other capacities as well. Hope we get to meet before too long.

    In your blog, you say some things that are not true. WVHC has never adopted any sort of resolution of specific opposition to the Allegheny Front wind project which is now near completion of construction. Such opposition was considered by the Board and rejected back in the days when this was an active case before the Public Service Commission. This led to a bitter split in the organization. Now that the project is nearing completion, we should accept our share of the credit or the blame, depending on how you look at it. This project has changed the character of the Mt. Storm area forever, but has turned out about as we expected as far as appearance goes. It looks terrible from WV Route 93, but does not have major visual impact from the Dolly Sods area of Monongahela National Forest which is quite some distance away.

    You also state incorrectly that we have a “new policy to oppose industrial wind turbines in the Highlands.” We recently did revise our policy stance in a more restrictive direction but not in the way you say. What we did is to oppose wind projects that had not been shown by their sponsors to displace coal combustion. We don’t claim as an organization to have the answer(s) to the question that this raises. Our rationale for the revised policy is simple: There are certainly undeniable negatives to wind farm construction, but most folks believe that there are also positives. But if, in fact, such development does not displace coal combustion, then what good is it?

    Concerning the Coal River Mountain Watch suggestion for wind development in their area, the WVHC response so far has consisted entirely of internal discussion. It will probably come up at the next Board meeting, which I’ll be unable to attend. My present feeling is that this is something we ought to leave alone until such a project is taken up by a real wind development company.

    I am going to place this letter as a comment on your blog, but would appreciate it if you would promote it to article status. I will also place in on the WVHC Board listserve.

    Thank you,
    Peter Shoenfeld
    Chair, Wind Energy Committee
    West Virginia Highland Conservancy

  3. After reading this very lengthy post I am still not sure if you are for or against the Coal River Wind Project. Why not just say it instead of talking around it? I would like to remind you that we at Coal River Mountain Watch are trying to save Coal River Mountain from 6,600 acres of purposed mountaintop removal. We are trying to build sustainable communities with green jobs and clean renewable energy. I, too, am concerned about birds and bats. House cats kill more birds than windmills. If I have to choose between birds and bats and looking into the face of people I know and love who are sick, dead and dying from coal I am willing to sacrifice a few birds and bats. An environmental impact statement would have to be done before this project could be approved. We are well aware of the fact that this windmill farm is just a drop in the bucket, but, so are all of the things you suggest and we do all of those. I am West Virginia born and raised, but even I know it takes ALL the drops to fill the bucket.
    Lorelei Scarbro
    Community Organizer
    Coal River Mountain Watch Wind Campaign

  4. Hey guys, thanks so much for your comments.

    Peter, it really is an honor to work for WVHC. I apologize if i misinterpreted WVHCs position on wind, but understand that I came to this conclusion after reading several articles and conversing with Julian Martin. In fact, when I described WVHC’s wind policy, I quoted you:
    “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”

    Also, when I spoke of the Allegheny Front, I wasn’t referring to any particular project, but the physiographical barrier that divides the Valley and Ridge fromo the Appalachian plateau.

    I do see where my title is misleading, and I will edit it.

    Lorelei, I have great respect for coal river mountain watch and I have worked with them in the past and will work for them more in the future. I tried to make it clear that I supported the coal river wind farm. I even said “please” after asking people to visit the site and donate.

  5. Modifications:

    I have changed some things in my original post to make it more accurate. If I left something out, please let me know.

    1) I removed “WVHC” from the title. The former title read. “Against the wind: Why WVHC’s opposition…”
    2) I changed the sentence “WVHC’s new policy to oppose wind turbines on the alleghany front has irked some coalfield residents” to “WVHC’s new policy has irked…”
    3) I qualified the assertion “By all accounts, the policy will be further nuanced at the next board meeting” to “by some accounts”. In the next sentence, I added the word “hopefully.”

  6. Not only is WHVC’s stance on wind an irk/insult to people so is “The Wilderness Society’s” –mostly WVHC efforts to praise the very politician –like Rahall— that is leading the charge to poison and blast the people and the mountains of southern West Virginia. Yes wilderness is great but to PRAISE Rahall.

    Was the trade off worth it? Can you look at the children of Mingo county and Prenter and say “sorry to continue to poison you but the Wilderness Society–Blackwater Canyon groups must protect their view.”

    Wind turbines can come down but mountains don’t grow back—and you can’t un poison children.

  7. Hey Judy, you are one my heroes… I agree with you that no one should praise Rahall, for any reason. I wouldn’t praise him if he died while saving a bus load of children. He is a murderer, plain and simple.

    If putting wind turbines above Blackwater Canyon would save children in Mingo county, I would be begging for them. Unfortunately, they could put a wind turbine on every mountain in WV and there would still be a demand for coal. We have to fight coal head on. It kills. Even if ending MTR means the world has to sit in the dark, we HAVE to end MTR. Of course, it doesn’t mean that. Personally, I think nationalizing and rationing electricity will force us to be more efficient and responsible and cut MOST of the demand.
    I would love to see the day where southern wv could be electrified by local wind farms and have the power to tell the rest of the world to fuck off. This was the only solution for Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico, that has been likewise exploited as an internal colony.

  8. Not only in West Virginia is the pristine forests be targeted for destruction by industrial wind turbines.(not farms: they grow NOTHING), but so is Pennsylvania, (the name means Penn’s woods. ) What “woods” will be left if Governor Rendell continues to push for the industrialization of our mountain ridges with these turbines.? There are enough brown fields to accomodate a wind plant. The “real” NIMBYs of the cities don’t realize that we need the trees AND the bats\. My God, they are dying off now and they are such an important part of our food chain. We are already losing our honey bees for whatever reason we don’t know. We are slowly destroying every good thing that keeps us alive. And it’s NOT for saving the earth. It’s all about money and greed. Gamesa wants to put 30 turbines on our mountain which is home to the Indiana bat and a bottle neck migration path for the Golden Eagle and Sawhet owl and other raptors. Gamesa’s “solution” to the bat issue is to acquire a permit to legalize killing the bats. They also want to put a permanent crossing on an EV stream that ihas native trout breeding. Then they claim that they are so protective of the enviroment. You are right, we will have nothing to retreat to. Only thing is, this is also my home. I choose a simpler life, I enjoy the quietness and quality of the mountain. Why should my home and life be destroyed? Please keep up your good work and iit would be a blessing to us Pennsylvanians to have an article like this published in our local newspapers. People just don’t know any better. The wind industry has them all brainwashed. The insanity has to stop before it is too late.

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