I will admit it – I am a NIMBY when it comes to certain kinds of power projects. I do not like soot, smog, or endless coal trains. Natural gas pipelines have scared me since I watched a friend get scorched while lighting a pilot light and that concern really increased when I learned about the family that got incinerated by a pipeline explosion while camping near Carlsbad, New Mexico in August of 2000. Even though Dad designed transmission substations and took family pictures near transformers, I have never wanted to live under a power line or next door to a substation. They are both ugly, produce an annoying buzz and have at least some potential for serious hazards in a storm.
I am pretty sure that most honest people would share in those feelings about power infrastructure, even though we all like to have access to the benefits that electricity provides. For the most part, we accept the installation of those kinds of systems as long as they are not too close, and we erect mental filters to white out the distribution wires, storage tanks and meters that need to be close to users if the systems are going to work at all.
One of my dislikes is not universally shared, however. I think that mountain top wind turbines are seriously ugly. I am a big fan of unmarred vistas and tree covered mountains as far as the eye can see. At least twice each year for the past four or five years, I have trekked out with friends for a weekend of hiking and camping along the Appalachian Trail to get a mountain view fix.
Apparently that source of inspiration and joy is being threatened by a proposed wind farm. According to an article on NewsVirginian.com titled Company begins filing initial turbine applications an unnamed company is interested in building as many as 131 wind turbines each reaching about 450 feet into the air. In another article about the same topic titled Is A Wind Farm In The Valley’s Future?, Rocktownweekly.com identified the wind project developer as FreedomWorks LLC.
For folks who are used to Rocky Mountain units of measure, 440 feet might not sound like much height for a mountain top wind turbine, but it is more than 10% of the height above sea level for most of the Appalachian chain. In other words – these machines will be visible for miles and unless the wires connecting them to the grid are buried – fat chance – they will require new treeless scars for transmission and access roads. In addition to the ugliness factor, the turbines will threaten birds and bats that are already using the mountain wind currents for transportation.
Based on my personal observations, it is also likely that the turbines will not generate as much power as some might think, especially during the hot, humid summer months when power demands in the nation’s capital are greatest. I have done enough hiking on those ridges to be well aware of the lack of breezes when you want them the most. Days sometimes go by without any air movement to speak of. You can see a graph of the wind energy potential compared to Virginia’s electrical power demands at VA Wind Energy Potential. Notice the tiny contribution in August!
Of course, the developer has a number of hurdles to cross before beginning installation. Various agencies have a voice including the FAA (because the turbines can interfere with ground based air traffic control radars), the DOD (because the there are aviation training areas nearby), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (because of the hazards to birds and bats) and the US Forest Service (because the turbine location is in a National Forest).
If you want to learn more about this project and others, I recommend a visit to vawind.org.