CHARLESTON – Benefits of wind turbines on ridge tops in Greenbrier County outweigh local opposition, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled June 23.
All five Justices affirmed the Public Service Commission of West Virginia in approving construction of 124 turbines, each 262 feet tall, and a 14 mile transmission line.
"The commission recognized the long term benefits to the state's residents in having West Virginia participate responsibly in the electric industry as well as ensuring the future availability of electricity to the state's residents," they wrote in an unsigned opinion.
They declared that "the rights of local landowners are not the primary consideration in the balancing of interests."
They pointed out that construction won't start until the commission holds a public hearing and developer Beech Ridge Energy meets all conditions the commission has set.
Beech Ridge's owner, Invenergy Wind, has financed more than $1.5 billion in development, construction and operation of power sources worldwide, they wrote.
Beech Ridge will spend about $300 million on the West Virginia project, they wrote.
Beech Ridge will pay the county at least $400,000 a year in taxes or donations, they wrote, and it will add about $200,000 a year to the state treasury.
Beech Ridge applied for a permit in 2005. The commission granted opponents permission to intervene through a group calling itself Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy.
The commission received thousands of letters opposing the turbines, and hundreds of individuals objected at six days of hearings in 2006.
The commission granted a conditional permit. Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy petitioned for reconsideration, and last year the commission denied the petition.
Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy appealed, claiming the commission rewrote or ignored its rules for choosing power plant sites.
The group argued that Beech Ridge failed to honor a requirement for evaluation of all impacts within a five mile radius.
The group argued that the project's visual impact and noise would lower property values.
The group argued that turbines would kill birds and bats.
The Justices found no evidence to support opinions on property values. They wrote that more than 90 percent of the turbines would stand within a mile of any home.
They wrote that as a condition of the project, Beech Ridge must cooperate with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in protecting birds and bats.
"We see no evidence that the commission exceeded its statutory powers and jurisdiction in this case and find that the record before us includes adequate evidence to support the commission's findings," they wrote.
"We further believe that the substantive result of the commission's action is proper in light of the public interest and the applicant's interest," they wrote.