Environmentalists Rally Against West Virginia, New York Wind Farms

Published February 1, 2005

Citizen-environmentalists are mobilizing to oppose a $100 million wind farm at the summit of Jack Mountain in Pendleton County, West Virginia, as well as a proposed New York wind farm in one of the nation’s most important migratory bird passages.

Landowners Forced to Sell

The Pendleton County Commission on November 16 signed an agreement with a Pennsylvania wind power company to build the wind complex on top of the Jack Mountain’s scenic ridge in West Virginia.

According to the agreement between the county commissioners and the power company, the county will take private landowners’ property by eminent domain if the landowners refuse to sell to the power company at the power company’s suggested price.

“It’s been sprung on us,” Robbie Sites, founder of Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County, told the December 7 Charleston Gazette. “The County Commission signed it without anyone’s knowledge. The county is taking private property and giving it to another private entity. The implications are very, very significant.”

Citizens Rally

Grassroots opposition also focuses on the environmental degradation the wind farm will cause. Current plans call for the construction of 50 wind turbines, each more than 40 stories high, along a ridgetop that overlooks the Potomac River. In addition to the turbines despoiling the ridgeline, an expansive grid of transmission lines will destroy the pristine nature of the face of the mountain.

“One of the things we like about this area is it’s so pristine,” local resident Larry Thomas told the December 7 Gazette. “This is one of the prettiest counties in the state. Something like this will cause an eyesore and not have the benefit like in other parts of the country.”

“Is this a replication of the colonial model that has resulted in the exploitation of our natural resources, enriching a lot of out-of-state interests and leaving West Virginia with considerable liabilities?” asked U.S. Congressman Alan Mollohan (D-WV).

Scientists Concerned

Citizens are also unhappy that the giant turbines will annually slice thousands of birds and bats to death in midflight. Scientists, according to the December 7 Gazette, have documented that a similar complex of 44 wind turbines on nearby Backbone Mountain is killing thousands of bats each year–the largest known bat kill in the world.

“Anyone who is concerned about bird mortality due to wind turbines should also care about impacts to bats,” said wildlife ecologist and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dan Boone.

“Populations of bats, like [those of] many birds, are in long-term decline,” noted Boone. “They are a diverse group, and have an important ecological function in controlling insect populations. Sadly, bats are being killed by wind turbines at 5 to 10 times the rate estimated for birds–at least for wind plants sited on Appalachian ridges (see: http://www.responsiblewind.org/reality).”

“My biggest concern is what has developed, particularly on Backbone Mountain, with the effect on bats,” agreed environmentalist Frank Young, former president of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, in the December 7 Gazette. “If all those turbines [that are being proposed for West Virginia] were constructed that are already permitted, we’d be looking at upwards of 40,000 bat deaths a year. That’s a tremendous number.”

Exacerbating the problem is evidence that wind turbines act as an attractive nuisance, luring bats into the vicinity of the giant turbines before slicing them to pieces. According to the December 1 Greenwire, “Researchers speculate that clearings and roads built for wind towers attract insects and therefore bats.”

Birds Threatened

Opposition also has gained steam regarding a proposed wind farm in Chautauqua, on the shores of Lake Erie in upstate New York.

The proposed windfarm is “in a well-known migration hot spot,” according to Mark Duchamp, windfarm and bird research manager of Proact International, an environmentalist group that monitors international bird populations. “There, every spring, U.S. birders and local raptor enthusiasts from the Ripley Hawk Watch come to observe over 100,000 raptors as they glide, circle, land, take off, soar, etc., over the very ridge top that is targeted by the developer.”

Added Duchamp, “The windfarm will be located in the worst possible spot from a collision risk point of view: stretching across the narrow flyway. As estimated by [the windfarm developer], 16,000 raptors will be flying each spring through the windfarm at an altitude within reach of the 121-meter high turbines. [The researcher] also estimates that 118,000 migrating songbirds will do the same.”

“Using [the Chautauqua windfarm] as a blueprint for more windfarms on migration pathways around the world will lead to a biodiversity disaster,” Duchamp concluded.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment and Climate News.