West Virginia Wind Wars

Feeling a little more tired than usual tonight (actually getting an exercise program under way, which is always a bitch at the beginning), so I thought I’d take the lazy man’s way out and recycle one of my recent Treehugger pieces. Thought about the Pearl Jam piece (which was very cool, ’cause I think I scooped that in the Sustainable Blogosphere), but this one on the battles that have arisen over the development of a wind farm in West Virginia was awfully interesting (the original article, that is — I leave judgment of my take on it to you):

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Many of us in the sustainability community love to believe Bob Dylan’s maxim applies to the inevitability of a global transition to cleaner, more renewable forms of energy generation. Yet, as we’ve seen here at Treehugger, the harvesting of wind power brings out a variety of very passionate responses. Many believe that wind could provide a significant amount of clean energy, while others argue about land use, aesthetics, bird and bat kills, and corporate conspiracies using the promise of green power as a ruse to fleece consumers.

While much of this debate in the US has focused on the proposed massive offshore Cape Wind project, another proposed wind farm outside of Lewisburg, WV, has spurred the drawing of battle lines. Regular contributor to the Augusta (VA) Free Press Erik Curren takes a very detailed look at the prominent players in this unfolding drama, and suggests that we may be witnessing the handy work of players who also had a role in both defending Big Tobacco from science linking smoking and cancer, and disseminating claims of scientific uncertainty regarding global climate change.

The battle in West Virginia gets even more complex than others around the US because the Mountain State is such a large extractor and exporter of coal. So in addition to the typical arguments about birds and landscapes, some see the presence of a wind farm as a direct challenge to an industry deeply entwined in West Virginia’s economy and culture. Typical environmental vs. corporate metaphors don’t work as neatly as they might in other places, as wind opponents and supporters both seek the label of David to Goliaths represented by Big Coal and Big Wind. For instance, wind farm opponent (or, as he claims, supporter of “Responsible Wind,”) Dave Buhrman believes his fellow concerned citizens face two Goliaths:

“When Coal River folks contacted me by e-mail last winter saying they wanted to join forces and have [Buhrman’s organization Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy] champion their cause, too, I took it to the next meeting, and I was told (and agreed) that if we did not maintain a laser focus on opposing [the Beech Ridge wind farm] we would not stand any chance at all.

“Big coal is a huge entrenched Goliath and virtually inseparable from visions of Southern West Virginia. Big wind is a newcomer to our state with enough backing and power to be considered a formidable Goliath in itself.”

Wind supporters believe there’s only one Goliath, the immensely powerful coal industry. Curren, however, sees the Lewisburg battle as symbolic of much larger and more entrenched interests in both West Virginia and Washington, and interweaves the story of one town’s debate with background on industry front groups and their tactics. Curren’s article is a long but riveting read that illustrates that local energy issues involve many players outside of the particular locality, and that those players often have interests they find more pressing than a small town’s infrastructure, economy and culture. The battle in Lewisburg will affect all of us, not because it will determine whether developers will build one wind farm near this eclectic town of 4,000 people, but because it’s another skirmish in a larger war over how the US (and other countries) will transition away from a fossil-fuel based economy to one that values conservation and renewable generation. :: Augusta Free Press via DeSmog Blog

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