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.