Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 24, 2009

Dominion and BP Wind Energy officials encourage ridgeline ordinance

By CHARLES OWENS

BLUEFIELD — The wind turbines planned for East River Mountain could be operational as early as 2012, according to company officials.

During a meeting Tuesday with members of the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board, representatives of Dominion and BP Wind Energy North America Inc. said they welcomed a proposed ridgeline protection ordinance being considered by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, but also conceded the ordinance as currently proposed has the potential to kill the East River Mountain wind turbine project.

“What Tazewell County is going through now, we encourage it,” Jim Madden, business developer of alternative energy for BP, said. “If there is no ordinance in place, we would seek to have an ordinance.”

“We are actually supportive of an ordinance, but perhaps not the one in place,” Emil Avram, director of generation business development for Dominion, said.

Avram said Dominion and BP are hoping to work with Tazewell County officials in developing a suitable ordinance. Madden said a mountain ridge overlay district being considered by the Bluefield, Va., Town Council could also indirectly impact the project — even though the wind turbines won’t be located in the municipal limits of Bluefield, Va.

Madden said if the project receives local and state approval, construction of the wind turbines would take two to three years. He said the earliest the project could be operational is 2012.

Madden said the Tazewell County project is envisioned as a 70 to 80 megawatt facility. Madden said a 60 megawatt facility would generate approximately $600,000 in property and real estate taxes for Tazewell County during the first year of operation. It would depreciate over time for roughly 20 years. By the fifth year of operation, tax revenue generated for the project would be estimated at $464,914. By the tenth year of operation, tax revenue would fall to $273,674.

Although the wind turbine project would connect to the regional grid, electricity generated by the project also would be used for Tazewell County, Avram said.

“It will be consumed locally here,” Avram said of the electricity generated by the wind turbines.

“The actual electrons — the actual electricity — will first meet demands here,” Madden said.

After an estimated 25 years of service, Avram said Dominion and BP could opt to repower the wind turbines with new technology. If the two companies opt not to re-service the windmills, they will be responsible for removing the wind turbines and roads on East River Mountain after 25 years.

“If you look at our track record at Dominion, I don’t think there have many been any projects we have abandoned,” Avram said.

Madden said the construction phase would create about 150 jobs, adding the company is hoping that more than half of those hired will be from the local community. He said another 10 to 15 long-term jobs would be created for maintaining the wind turbines.

The two companies have purchased 2,560 acres of land in Tazewell County for the wind turbine project. They are pursuing a similar development in Wise County.

When asked about the development of access roads to the top of the mountain ridge, and the potential problem of water drainage that could lead to flooding, Madden said the companies are required to prepare an erosion and sediment control plan and storm water pollution prevention plan as part of state and local requirements.

“It would be fully regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality in Virginia, as well as the county engineers,” Madden said. “We are very proud of our environmental records. We have built on ridgelines and have managed them very successful in other communities.”

When asked about the potential impact of the windmill project on wildlife, including bats and birds, Madden said studies on the migratory patterns of birds and bats continue.

“We’ve done weekly bird counts that started last June at a number of sites, including this site (on East River Mountain),” Avram said.

According to the company, research has shown that the mortality rate for birds in the eastern United States from wind turbines is about three birds per megawatt of wind power per year. By comparison, the company points out that 97 million birds die each year from collisions with plate gas windows. However, the bat mortality rate seems to be higher. Several studies have found bats seem to be attracted to open areas that contain wind turbines because insects are more easily found there, according to company data.

In addition to the proposals for Tazewell and Wise counties, Avram said the companies are looking at other locations for wind turbine facilities as well. Avram said the companies are not ready to disclose other potential sites that are being considered, but said BP and Dominion are not currently pursuing projects in West Virginia within their existing partnership.

Avram said Dominion and BP are excited about the proposal for East River Mountain.

“We are very excited to be presenting this project,” Avram said. “We are creating local green power right here in Tazewell County.”

– Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com