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Environmentalists split over project

Opposition to NedPower's 300 MW wind farm near the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia is taking an ironic twist. Regulators who are normally in the position of reviewing coal generating projects in the coal dominated state, are set to approve the clean energy project this month, but environmental support is split.

The West Virginia Highland Conservancy (WVHC) has decided it will not oppose the project as it had once promised to do. But the national organisation Defenders of Wildlife, spurred on by defectors from the WVHC and several small environmental organisations, gave NedPower the required 60 days notice that it will sue the company for violating Endangered Species Act regulations if it erects the up to 200 turbines near the Mount Storm coal generating facility. They say the company is building the project in an area occupied by the endangered northern flying squirrel, among other sensitive species.

NedPower calls it another case of NIMBYism (not-in-my-backyard protest) which will ensure that West Virginia remains a coal state. "The irony is that while we are working together with the USFWS for the environment by designing an environmentally responsible wind farm to produce renewable energy, these so-called environmentalist are working to ensure that coal remains king in West Virginia," says NedPower's Jerome Niessen, referring to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

NedPower set aside acreage to protect the nocturnal squirrel and is also developing plans to protect other species, such as bats. While environmentalists support wind projects in certain areas, says Judy Rodd of the environmental organisation Friends of Blackwater, this project is an "ill-considered scheme in the heart of some of West Virginia's most valuable scenic land."

WVHC's Hugh Rogers says the group's board of directors could not agree on a stand for or against the project and chose not to oppose it. But it has decided to oppose another 65 turbine project atop Rich Mountain near Harman by Spanish-owned Guascor Group. He says the project, in the early stages of development, would sit on prominent ridges among pristine hills, degrading scenic vistas in the Monongahela National Forest. WVHC, says Rogers, supports properly sited projects and developing a list of siting standards.

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