Clean, renewable energy sources are in the best interest of the environment and our future. In order to encourage the exploration and use of those resources, certain tax and other incentives have been created. Unfortunately, when financial incentives are created, there are unscrupulous individuals and businesses that will seek to avail themselves of those benefits without regard to the legitimate purpose of those incentives. That has to stop. Allowing industrial projects that are not designed to actually create sufficient energy, but are instead designed primarily to take advantage of the financial incentives, wastes tax dollars and creates environmental harm. It also undermines efforts to actually create sustainable energy sources. If environmental projects are permitted to be built that create little or no energy, but provide tax and financial benefits to certain companies and individuals, the public and politicians will eventually become suspicious of and hostile to all projects seeking renewable energy – even those projects that might have legitimate benefits.
Virginia has already seen this exact scenario in its western mountains with regard to wind energy. The Rocky Forge project was permitted in the western mountains of Virginia, despite the fact that the NREL map indicates that the highest wind speeds in western Virginia are 4 meters per second or less – in some cases not enough to even start a turbine, let alone produce sustainable energy. That does not even account for the fact that during peak demand months in the summer, the wind in the mountains is at its lowest levels. Despite these facts, the company behind Rocky Forge claimed large energy production to obtain approval. Once approved, PJM, the entity that that actually manages the power grid, determined that the maximum potential output would be less than 13% of what had been claimed. Therefore, it is clear that the point of the Rocky Forge project is not to create wind energy, but rather, to bring financial benefit to the company developing the project, and others involved.
In addition, the building of such wind energy facilities creates environmental havoc on the affected area, including the destruction of habitat, damage to water resources, and the killing of wildlife. Once built, the turbines are relentless bat and bird killers. The potential damage to the environment caused by a facility like Rocky Forge is enormous. The building of Rocky Forge made no economic sense without the existence of tax benefits and will never produce the claimed energy.
If the goal is to create effective renewable resources, then the incentives for unscrupulous companies and individuals must be eliminated. Identifying and creating legitimate sustainable energy projects is going to be a long process and public support of such efforts is critical. Create strict controls on where projects can be built (only where production will be real, and damage to the environment can be kept to a minimum) and ensure careful review. End permit by right rules that undermine regulatory review and public input. Develop Draconian penalties for individuals or companies that abuse or attempt to abuse the process. (For instance, companies with financial interests in Virginia projects, and their employees, should be required to disclose that affiliation in their comments. Filing dozens of identical comments without such disclosure, as has occurred here, should not be allowed.) Finally, awareness is critical. Not everyone who claims to support wind or solar is a sincere advocate for the environment.