An agreement on the disputed project, in woodland on Backbone Mountain in Tucker County, was reached in December between Atlantic Renewable and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, a group trying to get an area nearby designated as a national park. The ridge-top project was then approved by the state Public Service Commission on December 29. Other environmental groups had backed the project as originally proposed.
Under the compromise, the developer is agreeing not to build two arrays of nearly two dozen wind turbines in what was to have been a 90 turbine project. Several turbines in the two arrays would have been visible from parts of Blackwater Falls State Park and Blackwater Canyon. In return, the Highlands Conservancy dropped its protest.
Atlantic Renewable will now try to negotiate new leases with property owners so that those two arrays can be moved from the southern to the northern end of the project. The developer, based in Virginia, holds a lease with Western Pocahontas Land for 4400 acres. The compromise also calls for the wind company to monitor the project's impact on birds once it is installed and to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to try to cut down on the lighting required on turbine towers.
"We have set the precedent that wind power can be developed without seriously impacting existing developed recreational resources," says Frank Young of the Highlands Conservancy. The spirit of co-operation between the wind company and the Highlands Conservancy should be a model for others, he adds. There was no opposition to the project in the first two of the three public meetings required by regulators. West Virginia is economically depressed and the $70-$90 million project will create 200 construction jobs and seven full time jobs, says Atlantic Renewable.