April 26, 2010

Death by a thousand cuts

By Death by a thousand cuts

Author: Brandon Middleton

It's a wonder how small businesses tolerate today's regulatory landscape. In Virginia, it's taken more than a decade for a family to get permits necessary to provide Americans with wind energy. And yet the status of Highland New Wind Development's energy project is still uncertain, thanks in part to the Endangered Species Act and Indiana bat:

Construction of the state's first commercial wind farm will resume by the end of the month in Highland County.

But it will be midsummer before the first 400-foot-tall windmill will be visible atop Allegheny Mountain, according to developer Tal McBride, who spoke about the project Thursday at the Environment Virginia Symposium. Plans call for 19 turbines that will produce enough electricity to power 12,000 homes.

Site preparation began in August, but work was delayed while 12 feet of snow accumulated over the winter. The work will pick up as soon as the remaining snow melts, McBride said.

The 38-megawatt project, including a substation to connect with a nearby power line, should be operating by the fall, he said.

Some county residents oppose the windmills, saying they will endanger wildlife and spoil the natural beauty.

An exhaustive regulatory process and legal challenges have taken 10 years to play out — far too long for an alternative energy source that is well-established in other states, McBride said.

After the session, McBride said his family-owned business, Highland New Wind Development, does not have to obtain a so-called incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a process that would assess the project's threat to endangered species such as the Indiana bat. That position could set off yet another round of legal wrangling.

James Jennings, a Roanoke lawyer who represents residents opposed to the project, warned the Highland County Board of Supervisors in a Dec. 30 letter that his clients may seek an injunction to stop the project if McBride doesn't get an incidental take permit.

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