Rick Webb | Misrepresenting the status of the proposed Highland County Wind Energy Project

State and national newspapers, including the Richmond Times Dispatch and USA Today, have reported that Highland New Wind Development is prepared to begin construction by early summer with possible completion by the end of the year.
The source of the reported information is the developer’s public relations spokesman, Frank Maisano, who announced in a press release that the company has filed a site plan, which he characterized as the last step in obtaining a building permit. 

The newspapers in question simply repeated the company’s public relations material on the controversial project.

The press release was seemingly designed to help the developer obtain or retain the investors needed to finance the 19-turbine, $65 million project proposed for a remote and exceptionally wild area in the northwest corner of Virginia’s highest elevation and least populated county.

Despite Mr. Maisano’s statement, the wind project developer:

– does not have a building permit

– does not have an Erosion and Sediment Control permit

– does not have approval from the FAA

– has not met conditions imposed by the State Corporation Commission

– has not obtained an Endangered Species Act permit

Highland New Wind has faced a series of legal and environmental challenges since losing its first development partner in 2003. Virginia’s wildlife management agency has concluded that the project may result in the highest mortality of birds and bats for wind projects in the eastern United States. Virginia’s historic resources agency has raised concerns about impacts to the adjacent Camp Alleghany, listed on the Federal Register of Historic Places and recognized as the most pristine among the remaining undeveloped Civil War battlefields.

Following the death of thousands of bats flying into turbine blades during the first weeks of a West Virginia wind project, and given the location of the proposed Highland project within the range of endangered bat species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly recommended that Highland New Wind obtain a permit under the Endangered Species Act, and both Highland New Wind and the Highland County supervisors have been served a notice-of-intent to sue if the project goes forward without the permit. A federal suit has been brought against a West Virginia developer over the same issue, and earlier this year the U.S. Forest Service blocked plans for a wind turbine project in the George Washington National Forest in part because of the risk to the endangered bats that inhabit Virginia’s mountain ridges.

The developer of the proposed Highland New Wind project has complained that investors would be scared away by strict wildlife monitoring requirements imposed on the project by the SCC.

To date no investors have been publically identified, and Mr. Maisano made no reference to investors in his press release.

 

Rick Webb heads up Virginia Wind. He can be reached at rwebb@vawind.org.


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