People in Shenandoah County had the opportunity to hear both sides of the wind turbine debate Tuesday night at a public forum. They turned out to learn more about what potential impacts, good and bad, the turbines would have.
Impacts to land, wildlife, and the local economy are just a few of the considerations.
Douglas Kelley was one of about 250 people looking to understand a plan to put about 130 turbines on the Virginia-West Virginia border in the George Washington National Forest.
"We've got ourselves dependent on something," says Kelley. "And here's something that may be a solution or may be part of a solution."
The group, Shenandoah Forum, hosted the event after gaging public interest.
"We don't know enough to take a position," says Rosemary Wallinger, president of the group. "And tonight was a first step in getting some information."
Frank Maisano, a representative of the business interested in developing the turbines, FreedomWorks LLC, spoke to the potential economic benefits, including tourism. He says the mammoth structures can be a big draw for curious tourists.
"We are going to develop projects only where it makes sense," says Maisano. "Hopefully, it will be done in an appropriate manner."
Environmental specialist Dan Boone doesn't oppose developing wind energy but doesn't think our area is the best spot to pursue it.
Impacted areas would be on public land near the borders of Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Hardy counties. The turbines would be about 440 feet tall. The U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Aviation Administration are two regulatory agencies that would have to approve any such construction.
"There [are] many tremendous areas for wind energy development in the Midwest, far greater than the East," says Boone.
Opponents cite threats to bat and bird populations and say the turbines would only reduce the rate of growth of CO2 emissions, not lower them outright.
"Our greatest demand for electricity is during the summer, and wind turbines produce their least amount of electricity in the three summer months," says Boone.
"Unfortunately, those who don't want wind turbines in their own backyard want them in someone else's backyard," says Maisano. "And the fact of the matter is this region needs wind turbines."
After about two hours, people left with much to consider.
"Both of them brought up good points," says Kelley. "And, it's just something that I think is going to take some time to absorb everything."
The U.S. Department of Energy recently released a report detailing how they'd like to achieve the goal of generating 20 percent of our nation's electricity from wind power by 2030.
JMU will hold a two-day symposium on wind energy starting Wednesday.