Wind Power

By Frank Young

Part I - the Meeting

(Note: Frank’s experiences with an actual working wind farm in Pennsylvania, and his thoughts about these "wind"experiences, will be in Part II of Wind Power in the October issue of the Highlands Voice )


In June of this year I learned about a proposal to install a "wind farm" along the ridge of Backbone Mountain in Tucker County. The company behind the project is called Atlantic Renewable Energy (AER).

I have long been fascinated with the concept of windmills generating power.

Early in the history of America windmills were used to directly pump water or to sometimes drive grain mills or other equipment. The problem with using wind power for direct mechanical propulsion of most equipment is that the wind blows hardest on mountain tops but the water to be pumped or other equipment to be powered is located in valleys and other lower elevation places.

Placing windmills in valleys where the wind blows little or sometimes not at all isn’t very productive of energy.

Generation and transmission of power in the form of electricity makes possible the location of windmills on mountains where the wind blows more, and the use of that power at far away locations.

Very little interest in harvesting the power of wind to generate electricity has been shown by traditional fossil fuel electricity producers.

Two social circumstances have driven the fossil fuel (mostly coal) burning method of generating electricity.

(1) As long as the environmental costs of extracting and burning fossil fuels (mainly coal) to produce electricity can be externalized away from the producer, steam turbine electricity generation is by far the "cheapest" to the power generator (usually a power company).

(2) As long as the power companies producing the power had a monopoly on selling electrical power to consumers, there was no incentive for the power producer to invest in other than the "cheapest" electrical generation technology.

Only where regulating authorities have mandated that power producing companies include "renewable," alternative electricity production sources into their production mixes (in California, for example) have renewable sources such as wind or solar power been tested for power grid use.

But recently alternative power sources, mostly wind at this time, are receiving more consideration. This is driven by:

(1) The break-up of power production and sale monopolies, and

(2) [a.] increasing public and government pressures for fossil fuel electricity producers to clean up their production techniques and significantly lower the polluting emissions of fossil fuel combustion, and [b] increasing pressures to change the earth destructive mining practices in extracting fossil fuels (mostly coal) from the earth.

The break-up of electrical production and sales monopolies opens the door for customers to demand "greener" electricity. And that demand is now encouraged by regulatory changes.

The increased pressures for more benign and less polluting fuel extraction and combustion techniques portends higher costs for "traditional" electrical power generation.

Thus we have several existing or proposed wind power projects, including the Backbone Mountain proposal.

So when I learned that a meeting was proposed about the Tucker County project, and that the project's proponents wanted to "touch base with the environmental community," as they put it, I decided to be a part of that meeting. Early on I sensed that the project managers, through a company called Atlantic Renewable Energy, wanted my (our) blessings, not our money.

The Meeting

With some trepidation, realizing that I could become an unwitting tool in the company’s promotion of the project, I did attend their meeting at Blackwater Falls State Park on July 15th.

It appears from information gained from the company’s attorney, Robert Rodecker of Charleston, that 12 or 15 West Virginia environmental "leaders" were invited and that the company thought they would be attending. In actuality only four invitees attended. They were Jim Kotcon with West Virginia Environmental Council, Jim Sconyers with Sierra Club, Paul Rawson with the Canaan Valley Institute, and myself.

I went to this meeting armed with several pages of concerns some of our Conservancy members and Directors had about wind power. The concerns were about threats to birds, sight pollution and effects on esthetically sensitive landscapes, noise pollution, new roads for construction and maintenance of wind turbines, forest destruction during construction, oil and grease pollution during maintenance, and effects of power lines used to conduct electricity from the wind turbines to existing power grid input points.

The project’s promoters anticipated almost all our concerns. Their prepared presentation addressed most of the concerns before we even asked about them.

Forest Impacts

They said that trees are cut back only about 200 feet from the wind tower construction site and that "second growth" trees are allowed to grow up to the tower’s concrete pad, within about 20 feet of the tower.

The towers are to be about 220 feet tall, with blades 90 feet in length from center, causing the tower and blades together to extend upward about 310 feet – about same height as a football field is long.

Avian (Bird) Impacts

Dr. Paul Kerlinger, the company’s reportedly respected avian expert, reported on his studies of effects of the project on bird populations.

Bird impact incidences with the proposed Backbone Mountain project were said to be greatly reduced from 1970's and 1980's era wind turbines levels, primarily because

(1) the towers and turbines mounted on the tower tops have no perches for birds (these would be round towers without external ladders as opposed to earlier era lattice type towers), and

(2) the blades turn at much lower speeds- 13 to 20 revolutions per minute (RPMs) with current technology, as opposed to more than 40 RPMs with the older wind turbines, and

(3) towers are to be spaced out further apart, about two and one quarter times rotor diameters (about 400 feet) apart, and

(4) this project will have a lower concentration of towers (less than 100, compared to thousands in some California wind farms), and

(5) the absence of a large number of species of birds susceptible to collisions with towers and blades at the Backbone Mountain site.

Kerlinger reported on bird mortality at some "modern" wind tower and turbine sites. He reported mortality at sites ranging from 2 to 200 turbines ranging from zero to about 24 bird fatalities over two years.

Dr. Kerlinger has yet to determine fall migration flight paths of susceptible birds species and their proximity to the Backbone Mountain project’s location.

Kerlinger’s report says that his Phase I Avian Risk Assessment shows :

* Sufficient information on the birds and habitat at the Backbone project site exists to permit a thorough risk assessment;

* The Backbone project does not represent a significant risk to birds;

* No further study is indicated (except for the fall migration study).

Visual Impacts

The proposed project would be along a 4400 acre corridor, about 7 miles long and 200 feet wide. It would have between 60 and 90 towers, with turbines on top of each tower. The towers and blades together will each be about 30 stories (the length of a football field) tall.

The towers, turbines and / or blades are expected be most visible from

(1) eastern Thomas (it’s highest point),and

(2) on Route 219, about a mile or so north of Olsen Fire Tower, where that route crosses Backbone Mountain, and

(3) at the Fairfax Sand and Gravel quarry at the north end of the site.

We toured part of the proposed site after the meeting. We stopped at the Rt. 219 crossing point, near Tucker County High School. It appears that 7 to 10 towers and turbines will be visible to traffic coming north on Rt. 219 at that point, perhaps fewer for traffic coming south. But coming north they will be very visible, very noticeable.

In addition, about every third tower will have either white or red flashing strobe lights, 24 hours a day.

During the daytime the towers and blades have visual impact for 4 or 5 miles. After that they "fade into the haze" the company said.


The company says that the lower blade speeds (from 13 to 20 RPMs) will result in significantly lower noise than older wind driven generators that turned 40 or more RPMs.

It says that, from a distance of 750 feet, the decibel level is about 50 and that at that distance the sound of the wind in the trees masks the sound of the turbines. "Beyond 750 feet ambient noise will typically predominate" said

ARE’s Vice-President, Samuel Enfield.

Economic Impacts

Atlantic Renewable Energy says it has 8 projects under way – 4 in New York, 3 in Pennsylvania and 1 (Backbone Mountain) in West Virginia.

It says the company plans a $1.5 billion "potential investment" in West Virginia.

About 200 local workers will be employed for construction, which will take about 8 months, says the company.

After that, 5 to 7 full-time workers, mostly electricians, will be required to maintain the turbines.

Royalties are paid to the landowner. All of the land in this project is owned by Western Pocahontas Land Co. except for a part at the north end is owned by Fairfax Sand and Gravel, Inc.

Royalties are about two percent of the value of the electricity generated at the turbine site; that amounts to about $2,000 annually for each turbine, the company says. So, based on those figures, royalties would amount to between $120,000 and $ 180,000 per year.

If the fall migration avian studies are satisfactory, and the necessary permits are granted -- a building permit from Tucker County Commission, a certificate of need from the Public Service Commission (now a mostly perfunctory process) and a light installation permit from the Federal Aviation Administration – the company plans to begin construction next April and finish the project the following November.

Other General Information

Miscellaneous points by company representatives:

It will "meet later" with local residents, perhaps in August.

That with current technology, solar power is about three (3) times as costly as wind power.

Samuel E. Enfield, the company’s Vice President of Development said that "Aesthetics is a subjective judgment." He added that, from an aesthetics standpoint, "There are better and worse places to put them."

They chose West Virginia as a site because

(1) of the good wind source on high ground, and

(2) wind towers and turbines are compatible with existing land uses (farming, growing trees, etc., and

(3) it is cost effective. He said the north-south orientation of Backbone Mountain, perpendicular to the prevailing winds, is ideal.

The only transmission lines necessary will be a small line from about the middle of the turbine project to the Monongahela Power’s William sub-station near Thomas – a distance of four or five miles.

A small access road will be maintained along the ridge of Backbone Mountain to provide access for turbine maintenance.

Turbine maintenance takes place two to four times annually. Workers are careful to not spill oil and grease in the course of maintenance.

They company says it must be careful to maintain good stewardship of resources in order to maintain its standing as a producer of "green" energy.

Other's Concerns

In addition to the concerns discussed above:

Jim Kotcon expressed concerns about the project's impact on remote, semi-primitive recreational opportunities and the break-up of the forest canopy that construction and access road maintenance would cause. His comments were not addressed directly.

Jim Sconyers pointed out that the project’s impacts go beyond property borders. He also observed that "Natural view sheds are becoming rarer." His comments were not addressed directly.


I have not drawn conclusions about the project’s proponent’s candor in all their presentation and responses to our concerns. Generally, I feel that they were open and receptive to our comments and questions.

But I did have two observations about the project promoters:

(1) They do have a timetable for permit approvals and for construction to begin. My hunch is that, while they’d like to have the blessing of environmental leaders and Tucker countians, they will aim to keep that time schedule and aren’t going to let a bunch of "local" or "outside" dissent deter them.

(2) They do want to try to blunt potential environmental objections before they become problems – either legal problems or public relations problems.