Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wind Energy Controversy

We need alternative energy sources and harnessing the power of the wind is seemingly a great idea. However, there are considerations to consider relating to birds, bats and the loss of forest habitat with placement on mountain ridge lines.

Wild Virginia released a statement on this topic and I think it provides some succinct thoughts on the subject regardless of which state you live in:

Wild Virginia Position Paper: WIND ENERGY
June 23, 2007

Wild Virginia recognizes the need to shift to renewable energy sources for producing electricity in the United States. The environmental benefits of moving away from fossil fuels, nuclear power and other common sources of generating electricity are numerous and significant. We support many of the efforts now in place to make such a shift. In fact, Wild Virginia joined many other organizations in signing the Renewable Electricity Statement of Principles that was sent to all members of U.S. Congress in June, 2007. The statement calls for renewable sources of energy to produce 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2020.

Wind energy should, and hopefully will be a major component of America’s renewable energy portfolio. As with almost any large scale development, great care should be taken in the planning process before projects are undertaken. This is true of potential wind energy development in high elevation areas of the Appalachian Mountains generally, and the George Washington National Forest in particular.

The need for caution is due to the number of uncertainties and potential environmental problems associated with wind farms and large turbines. Some of these include:

Impacts to birds. Very little reliable data exists on how much direct mortality may occur (i.e., collisions between flying birds and the turbine blades) and the effects on bird populations. The ridge lines (where the turbines would be sited) often serve as flight paths for migratory birds.

Impacts to bats. Even less is known about potential impacts to bats than is known for birds.

Forest loss and fragmentation. The presence of turbine sites, transmission line corridors, and access roads results in the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of forest habitat. Given the often harsh environmental conditions along mountain ridgelines, these forest communities may be more sensitive to disturbance.

There are also concerns beyond environmental issues. Some of these are:

• Privatization of public resources. The concept of private developers using public lands for personal gain is objectionable to many citizens. Wild Virginia generally opposes the idea in the absence of a compelling need for it. Private lands should be the site for private developments.

• Practical and logistical issues. Questions have been raised about the utility of building wind farms in the Appalachians. Coastlines and other areas closer to population centers that have already been compromised with significant human activity and are closer to high voltage power lines are preferable. They are also where the need and demand for electricity is greater.

A wind energy project, like any industrial scale development on public lands, must be fully reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act. Each wind energy project is unique and must be considered on it merits on a case-by-case basis. All of the issues listed above must be fully addressed. In addition, some areas of the George Washington National Forest should be off limits to wind energy development projects entirely. These are Wilderness areas, Roadless Areas, Special Biological Areas, and drinking watersheds. Wild Virginia supports renewable energy production and a shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear power and wind power is an important part of that shift.

Visit WildVirginia.org.

2 comments:

Steve said...

I live in Manistee Michigan where , in October, I attended a meeting meant to introduce the public to the proposed White Pines Wind Farm in Mason County. A virtual reality drive presented the viewer with the 28 widely spaced 420 ft. turbines that barely peeked over the tree line. I overheard an elderly lady reply to her husband “see it’s not so bad, the trees will hide them”. Based on the video an easy conclusion to make, unless you’ve walked the property, where due to regular logging the trees are only an average of 50-60 ft.
There are currently proposals to place industrial sized wind farms in the national forests of Vermont, Michigan, and Virginia. Forests in other states await further study. The companies seeking to develop our forests are large and foreign owned; British Petroleum seeks to develop nearly 10,000 acres in Michigan and Iberdrola Renewables of Madrid, Spain would move on the Green Mountains National Forest of Vermont. Each of the giant turbines requires a 60 ft. diameter cement pad 30 ft. deep. This along with the massive infrastructure to support their construction will devastate these fragile ecosystems. These are not the vast open public lands of the west, only 13% of our national forests system lies east of the Mississippi River. Because of their proximity to large urban areas they are enjoyed by millions and form the foundations of thriving tourist economies. Why isn't such a looming and potentially devastating threat to our national forest system being more actively publicized by the myriad array of conservation groups previously charged with their protection? Perhaps when having to make the choice of protecting the wilderness or standing in the way of long awaited “green technologies” many are choosing to stand silent. Are the millions of tons of cement poured to construct a wind farm any less malignant to these ecosystems than the cement that would be used to build a coal fired electric plant over them?
Why, you also should ask, in such economically depressed times can’t leases be signed to locate these industrial sized projects on the states previously cleared private lands? On November 20,2008 Michigan’s second largest utility,Consumers Energy, announced the construction of meteorological towers to study the wind-generating potential of more than 28,000 acres of easements on private land in two Michigan counties, Tuscola and Mason. Mason County is the location of the proposed White Pines Wind Farm. Why would our government entertain such proposals when viable alternatives to the use of public lands is available?
What will be lost? Nearly 10,000 acres of the Manistee-Huron national Forest that borders on lake Michigan containing two crystal clear watersheds, Gurney and Cooper Creeks. This forest lies adjacent to the Nordhouse Dunes, the lower peninsulas only designated wilderness area. Here generations of residents from ours and neighboring states have camped,hunted, and enjoyed the outdoors in a variety of ways. The area supports the typical variety of woodland fauna, including black bears, and in recent years has welcomed the resurgence of bald eagles, it is a beautiful forest.
By hiding behind this “green label” has big business finally found the back door into our forest system they have long desired? I believe our forests are no place for this type of development, they are a legacy, handed down to all Americans and should never fall victim to any administrations “pet projects”. The forests of Vermont and Michigan may be the first to fall and thus set a dangerous precedent with far ranging implications for the entire national forest system. Due to the lack of media attention this story currently garners I would encourage those who realize the importance of our remaining wild spaces to spread the word and let your voice be heard. We cannot save the planet by adding to its deforestation.

Donna Watkins said...

Thank you for taking the time to provide this detailed information and your passion to preserve our forests not only for our own refreshment and enjoyment ... but for those generations that follow us.

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