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Companies air interest in possible wind farm in Wise

Steve Igo • Mar 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

APPALACHIA — Local interest was brisk as British Petroleum (BP) Wind Energy and Dominion, partners in wind energy projects, aired their interest in possibly developing a “wind farm” in Wise County during a public information meeting held in Appalachia on Tuesday.

The two energy companies began assessing Wise County’s potential as a wind energy locale in January on roughly 25,000-acre sites north of Big Stone Gap and Appalachia. The Penn Virginia properties known as Bluff Spur, Nine-Mile Spur and Rogers Ridge are ridgetop abutments to Black Mountain along the Kentucky border.

Emil G. Avram, director of Dominion’s generation business development wing, said the companies have placed meteorological towers atop each of the three ridgelines to measure wind speeds and other meteorological data, and the assessment could take awhile.

“We will have one to two years of data acquisition to determine our wind resource,” Avram said. “We’re excited about it, though, and hope to make it happen soon.”

BP Alternative Energy NA Inc. business developer Mike McCoy said the assessment will also include geotechnical and environmental studies, road access and other facets of developing a wind farm.

“The earliest we could think about construction would be 2012 or 2013,” McCoy said.

If the two energy companies decide to construct a wind farm in Wise County, about 30 towering windmills — between 380 to 450 feet tall from base to tip of an airfoil at its apex — would be needed to produce 60 megawatts of electricity. McCoy and Avram said the project would be at least a 60 megawatt generator, or roughly enough electricity to power 15,000 homes.

The companies say a 60 megawatt wind farm would also generate around $2 million in annual wages, 100 construction jobs during the eight-month construction period, $5 million in local products and services during construction for items such as gravel and concrete, five- to 10 long-term jobs, and local taxes of around $600,000 during the first year, $450,000 in year five, $280,000 in year 10, and $180,000 for the period of 13 to 20 years.

“This is looking like it would be at least 60 (megawatts) and possibly higher, but it’s still too early,” said McCoy. “Part of the issue right now is we’re still looking at our wind resource data and just started looking at that in January.”

Depending on the design, a commercial windmill can crank out between 1.5 megawatts to 3 megawatts of power in favorable winds.

Richard Phillips, vice president of academic and student services at Mountain Empire Community College, joined a throng of interested citizens with an eye toward MECC’s mission.

“We hope this will be a good thing,” Phillips said. “At the college we are looking at all the alternative energies to make sure we have the programs to provide opportunities for our people to be trained and ready so if the jobs come, we can put people to work. That’s our main concern — putting people to work.”

Kimberly Hay, an environmental activist from Big Stone Gap, said she is suspicious of Dominion’s motives. Dominion is the utility building a 585 megawatt coal-fired power plant in St. Paul, a project opposed by environmental organizations. A consortium of environmental groups recently argued against the power plant before the Virginia Supreme Court.

“I’m thinking this is a lovely cover-up,” Hay said of Dominion’s interest in developing a wind farm. “They’re still clearing trees and eating up ridgelines. I think this is just an attempt to cover up for raping the mountains here. Use that word, ‘raping,’ because that’s exactly what it is. This wind farm thing, it’s just (public relations). There will be no trees here, no mountains or anything left when they’re done (mining the coal).”

Wise County Board of Supervisors Chairman Robby Robbins said the idea strikes him as a breath of fresh air.

“I think it’s very exciting. One of the things we noticed with the public hearings on the power plant is that everybody is interested in the environment,” Robbins said. “Now we have an opportunity to step up to the plate with wind power. These turbines will be beneficial to the people of Wise County and reduce the carbon footprint. Wind is one of the friendliest forms of energy we have.”

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