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Wind power is a developing alternative energy source in some parts of the country, including West Virginia. With enough wind, large enough windmills, and efficient turbines, wind can be harnessed to produce electrical power. Current technology commonly produces 1.5 megawatts per windmill. Multiple windmills are usually deployed in what are called wind farms. These wind farms are connected to existing power lines for distribution. In West Virginia, the sites suitable for commercial wind power development are located in the highlands of the Allegheny Mountains.

While production is small by comparison to that of certain western and mid-western states, West Virginia was listed as a leading wind power state in a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The 2003 study identified West Virginia as one of nine states that collectively produced 95 percent of the nations’s wind-generated electricity. Within West Virginia, however, wind power provides only a small fraction of total electricity generated, less than one percent. Coal remains the undisputed champion in this field, generating 98 percent of West Virginia’s large electricity production.

Wind power is regulated by the West Virginia Public Service Commission. By 2012 five wind projects were operating in the state: Mountaineer Wind Energy Center, located along Backbone Mountain in Tucker and Preston counties; Mount Storm in Grant County; Beech Ridge Energy in Greenbrier County; Pinnacle Wind Farm in Mineral County; and Laurel Mountain in Barbour and Randolph counties.

Two other wind farms were in the works, the New Creek Mountain project in Mineral County and the U.S. Windforce Project in Mount Storm.

Modern wind turbines bear little resemblance to the picturesque windmills of Dutch folklore. Today’s windmills look more like giant propellers. There are three blades, each about 115 feet long. These blades are mounted on a tall pylon, with electricity produced in turbines positioned directly behind the blades. The windmills swivel like weather vanes to face the wind, and the surface of the blades may be rotated or ‘‘feathered’’ to control their speed or stop them. Electricity is generated even at slow speeds.

Federal and state policies encourage the use of wind power as a source of renewable energy. At the federal level, there are financial incentives for both the construction of wind farms and the production of electricity from wind. In general, these programs provide tax incentives and tax credits that vary with the amount of electric production. West Virginia also offers financial incentives for renewable energy and wind power. Tax incentives are available for wind power facilities in the form of reduced state business and occupation tax. Property tax relief is also available for utility-owned wind turbines through a reduction in assessed valuation.

Wind power has several advantages over conventional sources of electric generation. Wind power is a source of clean, non-polluting electricity. It does not emit greenhouse gases or the particulate matter associated with fossil fuels. Wind energy is an endlessly renewable resource.

Wind power is often unfavorably compared to conventional production as regards the current costs for the electricity produced. However, over the life cycle of the operation of a conventional power plant versus a wind farm, these costs come much closer. The cost of wind power is dropping due to technological advances, while the cost of conventional energy is rising due to the costs of energy sources and environmental issues.

Nonetheless, wind power has its problems. Earlier windmills were a source of noise pollution, but as the turbines have become more efficient they have also become quieter. One issue unresolved in the deployment of wind farms is the harmful effects on birds and bats that are injured or killed by flying into the blades. The PSC requires wind farms to comply with laws regarding endangered species, bird migration, and other environmental policies.

Another issue is the aesthetic impact on the surrounding scenery. The areas of West Virginia that have commercial wind potential are some of the most scenic areas in the eastern United States. Some people consider the windmills a form of visual pollution. Large areas of the countryside would have to be given over to windmills to replace the electricity now produced by conventional means, with nearly 2,000 of today’s turbines required to replace West Virginia’s largest coal-fired power plant.

The environmental community is split regarding wind power, enticed by its lack of conventional pollution but troubled by these new concerns. In 2004, Congressmen Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall raised questions about wind power, calling for a study of its effects.

This Article was written by Tom Haas

Last Revised on May 31, 2012


Cite This Article

Haas, Tom "Wind Power." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 31 May 2012. Web. 19 July 2018.

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