Yesterday, I came across this interesting book review in the Charleston Gazette. It is a review of Chasing the Wind: Inside the Alternative Energy Battle by Rody Johnson, a retired engineer from Lewisburg. Johnson apparently carried out extensive research, including interviews of participants, into the five year development of the Beech Ridge wind farm near Rupert. The reviewer, Joe Morris, is a former business editor for the Gazette who has also worked as a reporter for a “a wind industry trade publication.”
In his review, Mr. Morris points to a number of facts about land-based wind power in WV.
- “More wind power generation is under construction today than ever before, but none of it is in West Virginia. No industrial-scale project has come online in two years, and no developers have disclosed plans for new installations since 2009. Those who have built here swear they never will again, and those with permits are trying to sell off their rights.”
- “The settlement talks never panned out, and MCRE [the Greenbrier County citizens group opposed to Beech Ridge] subsequently filed suit in state court to override Beech Ridge’s permit, lost, then joined with a Washington-based animal welfare advocacy to sue in federal court, claiming Invenergy [Beech Ridge’s developer] had done too little to ensure no Indiana bats would be killed. This time, Invenergy lost. The ruling found Beech Ridge was “virtually certain” to kill Indiana bats and must take steps to avoid doing so.
Invenergy had itself to blame, since early on it chose to disregard bat protections recommended by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Ultimately, in 2010, it commissioned 67 turbines, which must be stilled half the day during the bats’ non-hibernation season, and it wants to add 33 more, the maximum allowed under the lawsuit settlement. Invenergy is required to monitor the site regularly for bat carcasses, and no Indiana bats have ever been found.”
“He [author Johnson] might have mentioned that while most states now pledge their utilities to drawing at least some power from renewables, Joe Manchin as governor effectively banned such a mandate in West Virginia, steering through legislation in 2009 that perversely declares coal and natural gas to be “alternative” energy sources, alongside wind and solar.
Nothing has changed under Manchin’s successor. In a July interview, Division of Energy director Jeff Herholdt said West Virginia should export wind power but has no interest in developing it for the state’s own use.”
“The state’s own use is, in fact, where wind could prove the most useful. As Johnson rightly notes, wind’s fuller integration into regional electric grids would entail nothing less than a coordinated national energy policy and Sputnik-speed advances in backup battery technology, the impetus for which would entail nothing less than a climate change disaster. Less rightly, however, he overlooks wind’s enormous potential in localized “distributed” generation systems, where turbines produce power near the point of consumption.
Because smaller in scale, distributed energy is more easily backed up with current battery technology, and since it bypasses the dysfunctional regional grid network, it bypasses the dysfunction of national energy policy. Only state policy stands in the way, if for no other reason than that no one is ever going to get rich off of distributed wind energy, while coal continues to mint West Virginia millionaires.”
“One realm left underexplored, however, is West Virginia politics. A spokeswoman for NextEra Energy, the country’s biggest wind power developer, told Johnson that the company would never build in West Virginia again, saying it couldn’t “cope with the politics and the coal influence.” Johnson leaves it at that, as if one need hardly say more.
Mr. Morris ends his review with the following:
Which brings me to our story’s ironic twist. Toward the end of “Chasing the Wind,” Johnson pays a follow-up visit to John Stroud, the MCRE co-chairman. Not long after Stroud’s victory over Beech Ridge, the harrowing sounds of mountaintop removal blasting began reverberating through his Williamsburg Valley farm. No one had ever dreamed coal companies were interested in the area, but now the timberland above the farm, because spared from the blight of wind turbines, had become appallingly available for surface mining.
Speaking for more than just himself, Stroud admits: “I may have shot myself in the foot.”