By Tina Alvey
The controversy over the Beech Ridge Wind Farm seems to have died down in Greenbrier County, if a public hearing dealing with the facility’s proposed expansion is any indication.
Only three residents spoke out at the 20-minute public hearing staged in Rainelle, according to Kevin E. Parzyck, vice president for development at Invenergy, the wind farm’s parent company. More telling, he said, is that all three speakers voiced support for the construction of 33 additional turbines on Mead Westvaco-owned property just west of the existing 67-turbine installation.
“Beech Ridge represents the kind of work we do well,” Parzyck said.
Interviewed at the courthouse Friday, Greenbrier County Commissioner Michael McClung said, “I’ve always been supportive of the project. On balance, this is a positive thing for Greenbrier County.”
McClung pointed to the construction jobs the project has already created and, if the expansion is approved by the state Public Service Commission, will continue to create. He also noted the positive impact of the substantial tax revenue the county reaps from the wind farm.
Commission President Karen Lobban also praised Beech Ridge’s developers, saying, “They have my total support. We’re happy to have them.”
Previous objections to the rows of windmills perched atop western Greenbrier ridges have focused on the potential damage to the habitat of endangered bats and on aesthetic concerns.
Invenergy is currently in the process of obtaining a bat “taking” permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a step required in a settlement agreement reached in a lawsuit filed by environmental activists.
Parzyck said, while the Wildlife Service permit process is lengthy, he believes the end is now in sight.
As for the proposed expansion of Beech Ridge, the PSC will conduct an evidentiary hearing at Commission headquarters in Charleston Feb. 28 and, if necessary, March 1. According to Parzyck, the PSC’s target date for issuing a ruling on the expansion is the end of April.
While the company has no specific schedule for the expansion, Parzyck said construction needs to begin before the end of this year in order for Invenergy to tap into federal tax credits for the clean energy project.
He said the company hopes the expansion will be complete by the end of 2014.
Written comments on the proposed Beech Ridge Wind Farm expansion are still being accepted by the PSC. Those comments — marked with Case No. 12-1196-E-CS — should be mailed to Sandra Squire, Executive Secretary, P.O. Box 812, Charleston, WV 25323.
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