- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

ROANOKE — A Virginia hearing examiner has recommended construction of the first utility-grade wind farm in the state, provided it meets conditions to minimize harm to the environment.

The recommendation was announced yesterday and will be followed by a public-comment period before going to the State Corporation Commission, which will decide whether to approve construction of the 19-turbine development on Highland County ridges.

However, the commission’s decision will not be the final action in the case.

The state Supreme Court will hear arguments in June in a case contending that county officials didn’t follow land-use regulations when they approved the project.

Commission hearing examiner Alexander Skirpan said the project by Highland New Wind Development poses a risk to bats and birds but that a monitoring program by the company and a state agency will help reduce the hazard.

Steps to mitigate the damage, he said, “may include limitations on operation.”

Mr. Skirpan’s 84-page report found the project may operate under Virginia law and would be a renewable energy source that is encouraged by the state’s energy plan.

Under state law, the commission can approve electric-generation projects that do not threaten the reliability of the electric system, that advance electric competition and that have positive impacts on economic development.

Some Highland County residents oppose the project, which is proposed at a 4,400-foot elevation where the headwaters of three watersheds converge. Mountaintop neighbors of the 217-acre site near the West Virginia border also fear the whirring blades on 400-foot-tall towers will kill rare and endangered birds and bats that frequent the remote area.

Opponents also contend the project won’t generate enough energy to be worth the environmental risk. The Highland turbines would produce up to 39 megawatts of electricity, enough power for 39,000 homes.

Supporters have contended the project will have environmental benefits, because it will generate power without causing air or water pollution. Highland New Wind owner Henry McBride has said he regards the wind farm as a way to preserve from development the 4,000 acres he owns in the county.

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