“Coal River Mountain Watch, along with a lot of other very special people, are proposing that the destruction of Coal River Mountain be stopped. We are proposing the water no longer being poisoned and the wildlife and vegetation be left in tact. We are proposing that the Appalachian culture be maintained with access to the mountains for gathering herbs and roots for medicines and food. We are proposing the Coal River Mountain Wind Farm” – Lorelei Scarbro, Rock Creek, WV
How It All Began
In late 2006, David Orr, an environmental politics professor at Oberlin College, and Appalachian Voices , a non-profit conservation organization based out of Boone, NC, wanted to find an economically viable alternative to mountaintop removal coal mining in southern West Virginia that would help to diversify the ‘coalfield’ economy in a sustainable manner. With the knowledge that many of West Virginia’s mountains have great wind potential, they commissioned a national wind consulting firm, WindLogics©, to find a mountain in the coalfields that was still intact and conduct a fine-scale modeling of its wind resource. The mountain they found was Coal River Mountain.
Wind Map of West Virginia with and Coal River Mountain (circled)
The above image shows that the state of West Virginia has excellent wind resources in many areas, including the southern West Virginia coalfields where mountaintop removal coal mining is prominent.
What the WindLogics study showed was that nearly all of the ridges along Coal River Mountain exhibited excellent wind speeds. The wind map created by WindLogics is shown in the image below, and represents the area within the green circle shown in the above image of West Virginia's wind potential. Wind developers are now developing areas that exhibit mid- Class 3 wind speeds, which in the following map is represented by the areas where the green shades are transitioning into the yellow. So, according to these standards, it is obvious that every ridge along Coal River Mountain could be developed for wind power.
WindLogics© map of Coal River Mountain wind resource
[Image created using Coal River Mountain Wind map created by WindLogics©]
Google Earth image of a model wind farm on Coal River Mountain:
220 turbines, 440 Megawatts
[Image created by Rory McIlmoil using Google Earth Pro, with the assistance of the Coal River Mountain wind map created by WindLogics©]
This model has since been updated by Downstream Strategies (more information below), who showed that a more conservative model wind farm would consist of 164 turbines, for a total generating capacity of 328 Megawatts (MW)
Overall, when the fact that the wind doesn’t always blow is accounted for, a wind farm of this size on Coal River Mountain would generate enough electricity per year to provide West Virginia with approximately 0.9% of its total electricity generation each year.
Map of Potential Wind Turbine Locations on Coal River Mountain
Red dots = turbines, gray shading = mining permits
At the time the model wind farm was developed, Massey Energy had already obtained their permit for the Bee Tree surface mine, and had applied for the Eagle II permit. Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) and Appalachian Voices took their proposal for the wind farm to the permit hearing for Eagle II held in August of 2008 by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The response they received was one of disinterest, and of deference to the mountaintop removal mining permits. No attempt was made on behalf of the DEP to figure out if the option to build a wind farm was the better economic option for the surrounding area, or if a wind farm would result in fewer environmental impacts than the proposed mining.
In response to the DEP’s neglect of the wind option, the Coal River Mountain Wind campaign was initiated by Coal River Mountain Watch in March of 2008 when a group of community members and activists concerned about the future of Coal River Mountain came together in a house in Rock Creek, West Virginia to discuss how to present the idea of a wind farm to local residents and county and state officials. By the end of that meeting, the group had come up with a campaign that would offer exactly what the coal industry and its supporters said they never offered: an economically viable alternative to mountaintop removal coal mining.
The Potential Benefits of Wind on Coal River Mountain
1) Provide enough energy to power over 70,000 homes (or about 1% of total West VA electricity generation)
Raleigh County alone has about 79,000 total homes, so this one mountain could provide almost enough electricity to power every home in the county with clean, renewable energy. As it stands right now, 98% of the county’s electricity comes from coal.
2) Create 277 local job opportunities during the construction of the wind farm, and an estimated 48 total permanent jobs for local residents related to the operation and maintenance of the turbines.
One issue with coal-related jobs is that they depend on the demand for coal, and upon the operation of the mine. During coal’s bust cycles, thousands of miners can lose their jobs. Also, when the coal in a mine runs out – and over the longer term, when the coal in West Virginia is gone – those mining jobs are lost. By comparison, since electricity will always be in demand, and since the wind doesn’t run out, the jobs related to operating a wind farm will always be available.
3) Contribute $1,740,000 annually in property taxes for Raleigh County and nearly $900,000 annually in Business and Operations (B&O) taxes to the State of West Virginia.
The annual property taxes that a Coal River Mountain wind farm would generate for Raleigh County exceed the total coal severance taxes the county receives each year. For example, in the 12 months leading up to the winter of 2008, Raleigh County had received a total of $1.66 million in coal severance tax receipts – and that was from all coal produced in the county. A wind farm on just one mountain would exceed that amount.
What this shows is that the development of a wind farm on Coal River Mountain, and the development of a local wind industry, could provide Raleigh County with far more tax revenues than coal. This money could be used to further diversify the local economy in a manner that builds upon local knowledge and generates forms of development based on the sustainable use of the land and resources. If this were to happen, the wind farm would help the rural areas of Raleigh County transition away from coal as the coal resources run out.
4) Potentially stimulate the creation of a strong wind industry in southern West Virginia.
There is a lot of wind that can be harnessed for energy production and economic development in southern West Virginia. Some of this could be developed as big, industrial wind farms, but most of it could be developed in the form of small, community-owned wind projects. Counties and the state should take advantage of these wind resources, because if a wind manufacturing plant were sited in Raleigh County, for example, between 2,000 and 3,000 new, permanent, safe jobs could be created.
[Photo extracted from here, credit to Associated Press photographer Jack Dempsey]
But this all depends on bringing an end to mountaintop removal on Coal River Mountain and all across southern West Virginia. For without the ridges, there can’t be any wind farms, and without the wind farms, future jobs and revenues are at stake.
“state and local leaders should reconsider their singular focus on extraction of coal resources in southern West Virginia and chart a common path forward with local citizens that not only preserves private profits, but also strives—as a central objective—to sustain the local economy over the long term.”
5) Help Reduce West Virginia’s Carbon Footprint, and prevent further contributions to Climate Change.
The construction and operation of a wind farm on Coal River Mountain – by generating clean electricity and reducing the need for burning coal – would result in the direct prevention of over 19.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the first 20 years of operation. By further stopping the proposed mountaintop removal operations, another 111.5 million tons of CO2 will remain sequestered underground in the form of un-mined coal. In total, the proposed wind farm will prevent over 130 million tons of CO2 from being released to the atmosphere over the first 20 years.
[Photo extracted from here, accessed June 4th, 2009, no photo credit provided]
Looking Toward the Future
A Coal River Mountain wind farm will not stop current underground mining activities from continuing their operations. There are currently five underground mines operating on seams lying underneath Coal River Mountain producing over 3 million tons of coal and employing over 300 miners each year. Due to the depth of these mines, such mining will be able to continue operating to completion in conjunction with a wind farm. The combination of a wind farm and the continuance of underground mining will allow for a transition into a new economy for Raleigh County and the Coal River communities once the coal has been mined out.
The new economy could be an economy based on the sustainable use of the land, the development of alternative sources of energy, jobs and income. The Coal River Mountain wind project, if successful, could serve as a model for economic diversification in other counties and communities, one that calls for the development of renewable energy, the creation of green jobs, and the preservation of the environment for improving the quality of life for both current and future generations.
Perhaps most importantly, this wind project will save one mountain and the surrounding communities from the decimation and contamination of the land, resources and residents that inevitably result from the blowing up of mountains and the filling of valleys with mining waste. It would exist as a symbol of change and the breaking of the oppressive coal stranglehold on southern West Virginia’s economy and its communities. A wind farm on Coal River Mountain could be the first step toward creating a new and sustainable Appalachia.
[Photo courtesy of Brett Marshall, ]
For more information on sources used in this theme, please see the Notes on Sources page.