WEST VIRGINIA — Seventeen residents from four southern West Virginia coal counties took a tour of the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in Tucker and Preston counties and the Mount Storm wind farm in Grant County to see what the operations entailed.
Southern West Virginia residents traveled 250 miles to the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center and Mt. Storm Lake. While at Storm Lake, they were able to compare Mt. Storm's wind farm and the Mt. Storm coal fired power plant.
The Mountaineer Wind Energy Center is a 66 megawatt plant with 44 1.5 megawatt turbines that generate enough electricity to power 22,000 homes. It began commercial operation in 2002. Mount Storm, located in Grant County, W.Va., consists of a total of 132 wind turbines stretching along 12 miles of the Allegheny Front, and can generate up to 264 megawatts, or enough electricity to serve about 66,000 homes and businesses.
Arranged by the JOBS project (Just and Open Businesses that are Sustainable) in collaboration with FRIEnergy, Coal River Mountain Wind and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the group got a close look at the 1.5 megawatt wind turbines and spoke with development officials about energy options in the southern part of the state.
Participants said they were most interested in the process of wind energy development, economic benefits, and community ownership of wind turbines.
Robert Burns, who worked for the Tucker County Development Authority during the planning and construction of the wind farm, now works for Tucker Community Foundation. At the gates of the facility for photos and discussion, Burns spoke about some bottom line incentives for wind in West Virginia.
"Our local government was looking for two things when deciding about the economic development of Mountaineer Wind Energy — taxes and jobs," he said.
Burns said the project created local jobs, and the county tax revenues increased significantly from the onset of the project. Yearly, 60 to 70 percent of tax payments to the county from Mountaineer Wind Energy are reinvested into schools.
Standing back to see the six-mile range of 346 feet tall turbines, Ellis Keyes, a community resident from Kentucky said she wants to be involved in a alternative energy project.
"I'd like to see wind development become accessible for landowners like myself," Keyes said.
There were four landowners in the group who had previously met with Eric Mathis from the JOBS project for preliminary assessments of their windy ridges to identify proximity to electrical lines, good road access, wind speeds, and acreage. Landowners commented that the turbines were quiet and said they liked the look of the turbines at close range.
Luella Kirk, a resident from Raleigh Co., commented on how deer would graze under the turbines, but others in the group were not so sure, until one walked straight in between two of the closest wind towers.
"The thing I was most impressed with was seeing how technology and nature coincide without affecting each other's work," Kirk said.
"That's what this trip was all about," said Julia Sendor in a discussion about the relationship between the JOBS project and Coal River Wind. "The tour was organized in order to provide coalfield residents an opportunity to see wind turbines up close, so that they could begin thinking about alternatives to coal and talking about wind power where they live."
Mathis said both the JOBS project and the Coal River Mountain Wind campaign want to create alternative models of economic development in the southern West Virginia coalfields.
“Both campaigns are demonstrating that renewable energy industries are not only possible in the southern counties, but would provide a source of economic stability in areas that are often impacted negatively by the bust cycles of coal,” Mathis said.
Echoing the spirit of the wind tour, Eric Mathis from the JOBS project said, "It was a step towards clean energy and economic transition. Everyone walked away feeling excited about the possibility of wind energy in their communities."
"Change is a scary thing,” Louella Kirk said. “It is for me, and it is for others, but wind is not going to make people lose jobs, it's going to create long term jobs."