Wind Is Given 2nd Look As Energy Needs Grow

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 3, 2008

RICHMOND -- Miles of mountain ridges hugging the state's western border could hold the key to Virginia's search for alternative energy sources.

That is where developers are looking to build more than 100 wind turbines taller than the Statue of Liberty, side by side, on 18 miles of the George Washington National Forest.

FreedomWorks, a company with projects in four states, wants to generate electricity for the power-hungry Washington area and beyond, despite concerns about disturbing wildlife, spoiling untouched lands and creating noise and light pollution.

As the United States searches for ways to lessen its dependency on foreign oil, wind energy is getting a second look in states such as Virginia that had not embraced it.

The national push, along with new state financial incentives for renewable energy, has prompted more interest in wind turbines in Virginia.

"Wind is catching fire," said L. Preston Bryant Jr., Virginia's secretary of natural resources. "It is literally all the rage."

Virginia is one of a dozen states, most of them in the Southeast, with no wind farms. But that might change this year.

The State Corporation Commission has approved a request by another company to build 19 turbines in remote, mountainous Highland County, known as Virginia's Switzerland. That is expected to produce enough electricity to power 15,000 homes in the mid-Atlantic. Construction is expected to begin this year.

Two smaller projects would power Tangier and Wallops islands off the Virginia coast. And Dominion Virginia Power, the largest energy provider in the state, with 2.3 million customers, is working with BP Alternative Energy North America to build and operate wind farms in Virginia. No locations have been announced.

"There is a lot of really good opportunity in Virginia," said Frank Maisano, a lobbyist for 13 wind developers in the mid-Atlantic states, including Virginia and Maryland.

But the new push for wind energy in Virginia has highlighted a conflict within the environmental community.

Some groups, which have long clamored for more renewable energy sources and encouraged wind power instead of a new coal-burning power plant in southwest Virginia, oppose the FreedomWorks project, the largest wind proposal in the state, because of the potential harm to plants and animals.

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