Monday, October 04, 2010
Letter to the Editor
Botetourt should say 'yes' to wind energy
Blue Ridge Business Journal
- Browse the archives, issue by issue, of the Blue Ridge Business Journal, which ceased publication in December 2010
- Browse the 2010 Blue Ridge Business Journal Book of Lists
- See other special issues produced by the Blue Ridge Business Journal
The Roanoke Times
First and foremost I am not a resident of your [Botetourt] county. However I am a frequent visitor as I have friends and family in the area. I call Wise County my home, about a three-hour drive west. My home and yours both have high mountains and fast-flowing rivers. And both share a precious commodity, the power of wind. I was astonished by the recent rejection of windmills in your county.
Dominion/BP has an ongoing study to possibly place a wind energy site here. It was welcomed with open arms and encouragement by the board of supervisors. Yes, Wise County is in the coalfields and for decades coal was king. And it's still a big part of the economy. But 20-plus years ago a many-months-long union strike against the coal companies devastated the coal industry. Unable to operate at a profit and having lost sales contracts, major employers closed, shut down, walked away forever. Thousands of miners lost their jobs.
Local leaders made a choice: coal or diversify. They chose both. An aggressive business recruitment effort was launched not by one county but by all in this region, jointly.
The coal industry recovered and is booming, non-union, with excellent wages and benefits. When the Virginia Department of Corrections went looking for space for new prisons, leaders here were first in line. Now with two huge state prisons operating, hundreds of jobs exist at each, both of which are in Wise County. The Federal Bureau of Corrections came calling as well. Lee County is now home to a federal prison employing hundreds.
The list goes on. Dominion Energy needed a site for a $4 billion coal- and wood waste-fired 585-megawatt power plant. The Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center is now about 70 percent complete. And the technology to be used will make it the cleanest place of its type in the nation. A Virginia Tech economic impact study concluded this facility will generate about $440 million per year in revenue and other benefits. This of course includes the 500 or so jobs created in plant operation and related coal/fuel supply employment. Four million dollars per year of this will be in the form of property taxes.
Technology-sector jobs were on the wish list and guess what, they're here! Northrop Grumman, CGI, Sykes, Verizon. Good-paying, full-benefit jobs. There are hundreds employed by these corporations, and they're hiring. Then there's the natural gas exploration and drilling, "just" a hundred or so wells a year being drilled. Halliburton, Equitable Resources and many others have an untold number of workers. The coal bed methane gas deposits here are some of the largest in the nation and have many years of reserves yet to be tapped.
I did not attend the board of supervisors meeting regarding the meteorological tower on North Mountain. But I did read the minutes of that meeting. Some rather interesting viewpoints were expressed. However I am still struggling to connect an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with a MET tower on North Mountain. Last time I checked, MET towers monitor the weather. And mountaintop windmills produce electricity, not oil.
The message here is really quite clear and simple. You either want industry and jobs or you don't. You don't throw a tantrum over a simple overlooked permit for a weather station. Botetourt County has an interstate highway to call home. Plenty of space for industry to locate but there is none. The coal counties of Southwest Virginia do not have one mile of highway designated as an interstate yet we're thriving. You can get a job here.
Why? We're business-friendly. One recruited industry attracted another and in turn another.
I have been to the proposed windmill site on North Mountain. I can assure every one of you that is smack in the "middle" of the "middle of nowhere." The only thing a windmill here might affect would be our dependence on foreign oil.
Botetourt County has the opportunity to host a true "green" clean energy project. And receive the financial rewards it will bring. Along with the industry recruiting ability to boast that you're a leader in the push for clean energy production. If you folks are so hurt and offended over the lack of a permit as to not see the future potential of such a project, Wise County will gladly take the windmills, along with the jobs and the revenue. And when your lights come on, a watt or two just might be coming from here.