Monday, June 28, 2010

Who Decides the Future of Bent Mountain?

At first 18 wind turbines and later 54 wind turbines

Directors of the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition, Diana Christopulos, Board Chair, red rain parka, daypack and hiking staff, Stan Breakell, Director, navy rain parka and umbrella, Sean McGinnis, Director, gray rain parka, broad-brimmed rain hat, Jeremy Holmes, Director, forest green rain parka, Chad Braby, Director, red and gray rain parka, Renee Goddard, Director, day-glo yellow rain parka, (Mark McClain, Director, was the photographer and not pictured) participate in a Poor Mountain outing led by Don Giecek, Business Development Manager (salesman) for Invenergy LLC, orange rain parka and aussie bush hat and Maryellen Goodlatte, Invenergy’s local legal representative and wife of Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va), ivory mid-length rain parka.

Two separate groups recently went to the ridges of Bent and Poor Mountains to talk and look and ponder if it should be developed for industrial use. Comparing our experiences, it is easier to see why we left with very different impressions.

May 19, 2010 was a wet, foggy day on Poor Mountain. The self-assigned assessment team of the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition (RVCCC) wasn’t able to see the extraordinary long range vistas from the highest peak in the region, nor the lady slippers at their feet. They saw transmission towers, radio towers, TV towers, and their related construction debris dumps. So while considering the “scale” of benefits promised by Mr. Giecek, they concluded that Mr. Giecek was right and Poor Mountain’s natural environment indeed had already been “trashed”. So, with the promises of “gr-r-reat” benefits including the salvation of the planet (and the human race), they decided that rainy day that Poor Mountain and the resident Bent Mountain community was a small sacrifice they, the board members, could make for humanity. Sad, though, it was.

Nearly a month later, June 18, 2010, members of the Bent Mountain community enjoyed conducting a tour of the mountain including special and protected habitat on a gentle warm, sunny day. We traveled the abandoned Laurel Creek fire trail, originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s. Closed to access over 20 years, it was covered with lush green grasses and Lady Ferns. Our guest remarked at the seldom witnessed clarity of the water as he leaned his head outside the truck, looking down at the silt-free stones in the creek gorge below. We stirred up two rafters of turkey, saw several young bucks with their fuzzy antlers, and came upon a strutting Ruffed Grouse on Honeysuckle Lane that sent us both quickly struggling to identify it.

We were unable to reach the site of the old microwave tower, the summit of Poor Mountain (El. 3928’) at the “jumping off point” for the first 18 “green credit producers” for the Chicago Climate Exchange. The access road is gated and locked and the secondary access way was blocked off with huge boulders. We did, however, become intimately familiar with the site by traversing its boundaries, exploring tax maps, topographic maps, and Google Earth, the next best thing to a helicopter tour.

Eighteen Wind Turbines surrounding a Remote Hollow w/Cove Hardwoods on Poor Mountain

We recognized that Invenergy’s proposed initial installation will impact an extraordinary area of remote wilderness far beyond the 2000 acre site.

While this particular area is only marred by access trails to the 138Kv transmission line right-of- way, the remote hollow on the site is one of two major contributors as the headwaters of Laurel Creek. It is for this reason we chose to approach our tour from the Laurel Creek fire trail.

Geologically, Bent Mountain is a unique plateau in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is similar to its sister area, Burke’s Garden in Tazewell County. Poor Mountain’ eastern slopes provide soft “sweet” water to the Bent Mountain plateau. The western slopes are much rougher and drier with craggy rock outcroppings. The result of the difference in water supply has been that the Bent Mountain plateau has provided a rich habitat for wildlife as well as human beings for many generations. (Currently, 1500 people call Bent Mountain their home.) Our home, located high on Poor Mountain and about a mile from the old Indian camp farm, is supplied with sweet spring water that our family has enjoyed for 35 years. In the driest of years, our spring has never gone dry.

The site proposed for the first 18 wind turbines also is nestled between a number of protected environment areas. To the Northeast is the Poor Mountain Preserve (Nature Conservancy) where a unique stand of the endangered Pirate Bush flourishes. On an adjacent tract to the Northeast, the Nature Conservancy holds an easement to protect the headwaters of Bottom Creek. Another nearly 1000 acre tract of land to the southeast has been placed with the Western Virginia Land Trust. And the Nature Conservancy also holds a large acreage of land protecting the Bottom Creek Gorge, the highest waterfall in Virginia and the Tier 3 designated Bottom Creek.

Proponents of the Wind Turbine project, (Invenergy, its paid Professional advocate, Mary Ellen Goodlatte, Atty., and the Cool Cities Coalition) have stated that Poor Mountain has already been “trashed” with communications transmission towers and it has been logged; therefore, the environmental value this 2000 acre section, and adjacent hollows, of Poor Mountain and its resident human community is a small sacrifice to make.

Some of the Poor Mountain area has been recently logged. This was instigated by the devastating Gypsy Moth infestation of 2008. Indeed, that has had a dramatic impact on natural habitat on Poor Mountain. However, 2010 has been a banner year for our wilderness up here on the mountain. This past winter of constant snow served as a magic elixir for a strong recovery. I have spotted my friends, the native “Brookies”, I think Char is their formal name. Nevertheless, this high up in elevation, they were never stocked.

The natural environment on Poor Mountain is still in a fragile state. The Invenergy Wind Plant Turbines will all be placed on narrow ridges with very wide ridge roads. Clearing, excavation and construction, over 200 acres on all of the ridges (narrower ridges than shown in the adjacent Mountaineer Wind Farm in WV) of a recovering environment below and on both sides of the ridge will serve as a death blow to immediate woodland environments including Cove hardwoods and miles of streams, including Bottom Creek, a state designated Tier 3 stream that runs through the Nature Conservancy’s Bottom Creek Gorge.

Trees and plants are nature’s form of erosion control techniques. When forests in the mountains are logged and clear cut, they are extremely susceptible to massive erosion. As an architect, I have never seen a construction project of any kind where erosion and sediment control measures, subject to human control, were not breached, either by accident or negligence. Note the breached erosion control measures in the above photo on the Mountaineer Wind Farm, WV.

There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to capture the energy of the wind. The issues arise over answers to two fundamental questions:

Do you support Industrial Scale Wind Turbine Projects for the money?


Do you support Industrial Scale Wind turbine Projects for humanity and our environment?

Both questions require every individual, who chooses to answer either, to dedicate themselves to “critical thinking”. Merely “choosing a side” is an insult to the future of humanity.

Proponents have stated:
“The proposed Invenergy project has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by approximately 98,000 tons a year.”

On existing Wind Turbine installations 15% to 25% of rated capacity is all that can be expected on an annual basis in the Appalachian highlands due to the intermittent and turbulent (thermals and eddies) nature of wind. This initial proposed installation’s maximum rated capacity is 45MW if it were running at 100% efficiency at 100% of the time. In reality, this project would have a maximum output of 11.25MW. The RVCCC calculation does not include the electricity drawn from the grid to maintain the turbines. If the electricity from the turbines cannot be sent into the grid, it is drained off into the ground. The turbine system has no capacity to store electricity. A calculation that only addresses the rated output of the turbines, is very misleading, and is not the net gain of power drawn from wind.

By RVCCC’s undocumented calculation factors, this brings the carbon emission reduction down to about 42,000 tons a year, more than 57% less.

Proponents have also stated:
Average Households Powered:
“The equivalent of approximately 8,500 to 10,000 households in the Roanoke Valley.”

Based upon an industry recommended residential wind turbine installation of 10Kw rated capacity, the claim is inflated by over 880%. The actual homes served in would be 1,125 and there is no way to determine that they would be in the Roanoke Valley.

Invenergy, LLC has a strong financial interest in resuming Federal “energy credits” included in the current “cap & trade” legislation. Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) has repeatedly and eagerly opposed “cap & trade” legislation, policies and abuses. The very concept of “cap & trade” created a financial trading market in 2003. The Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) on which Invenergy’s founder & CEO, Michael Polsky is a charter board member along with Richard M. Daley, of the Chicago Daley family and 16 others.

Coal companies and coal-fired power plants are actually permitted to increase their carbon emissions into the atmosphere when they PURCHASE Energy Credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. This exchange of “credits” is good for business for coal companies and a nationwide host of other carbon emitting industries. They are willing to pay massive amounts of money for these “credits.” As a result a small group of people in Chicago are raking in big dollars under the guise of renewable energy. Does this sound like another Wall Street derivatives market scandal that plunged us into the most severe recession since the Great Depression? It is.

And who is the source of such great riches? All of us will pay, through our taxes and our electric bills. And the actual reduction of carbon emissions is relatively miniscule.

In addition, are we so na├»ve to think that there won’t be 54 wind turbines, as identified in a 2005 joint study by Invenergy and PJM, a company that operates the electrical grid distribution system?

Here’s a poignant quote from:
Chris Bolgiano of Highland County, Virginia, a “humorous” nature writer of five books, innumerable articles, and one short history of a small place -- her own community.

“What drives this high-cost/low-benefit gold rush is the federal production tax credit. More tax breaks beckon in national forests, where no local property taxes are levied so local communities wouldn’t share in revenues produced by turbines, plus the Forest Service helps pay for building roads. In the three years that the federal tax credit hasn’t been reauthorized since first enacted in 1992, the skyrocketing wind industry plateaued like a mountaintop-removal coalmine.

The coal mining that has ravaged the land and people in part of Appalachia for a century is our major source of electricity, and is obscenely destructive to forests. But destroying more forests in order to stop destroying forests doesn’t make sense. And building industrial wind plants in Appalachia isn’t change. It’s a 21st century version of the same old pattern of taking value out and leaving costs behind.

These ancient mountains are well-documented as the biologically richest temperate woodlands in the world, one of North America’s greatest natural treasures, rich in globally rare species and communities, including human ones. So you can’t dismiss my aging hippie protest merely as NIMBY, which in any case is simply love of place. It breaks my heart to see these murdered old mountains assaulted again.”

On the evening of June 23, 2010, the Bent Mountain Civic League voted unanimously to endorse the Planning Committee’s commitment to oppose the proposed installation of wind turbines on Poor Mountain.