County Poised to Renew Windmill Ban

It looks like the Albemarle Planning Commission is going to maintain their prohibition on windmills at their meeting on Tuesday. County staff has recommended that the county revisit the topic in two years and, in the meantime, study how other localities in Virginia have handled any problems that they might present. Sean Tubbs covered the PC meeting on this topic in May, and found that there was significant disagreement among commission members about how to move forward. So the solution that the county has come up with is to continue to prohibit this form of renewable energy.

JMU conducted a study of wind energy on Buck’s Elbow a few years ago and found that it’s a great source of wind energy. The Southwest Mountains and the whole eastern slope of the Blue Ridge are excellent locations for windmills. My latest power bill was breathtaking, a result of Dominion’s latest price hike. I’ve looking hard at installing a Skystream, since I live in up in the Southwest Mountains, though I guess that’s not going to happen. If you’re interested in relying less on coal and foreign oil, and want to consider small wind, check out JMU’s Virginia Wind Energy Collaborative. But that’s about all you’ll be able to do, I guess. (Unless you’ve got an in with your representative on the Planning Commission.)

92 thoughts on “County Poised to Renew Windmill Ban”

  1. This a shame to ban wind power for homes. This is America and where’s the freedom in that? It’s unconstitutional. These guys should all lose their position of leadership. I have a double turbine Wind/Solar system from on my garage. These guys should really look at what’s going on before they just ban att windmill systems. Unlike a SkyStream, the rooftop wind/solar hybrid systems make power even with no wind because they combine solar into the system. The blades are less than 6ft in diameter, so they can simply mount on the roof, no need for a giant tower or big 12ft blades. Skystream is just too big and expensive for most homes and in summer when there’s very little wind, they do nothing. A hybrid system like I’m talking about is more consistant and not overpriced to install. These guys should look at Rooftop Wind Turbines and atleast afford the citizens with this smart option. I wouldn’t want a big windmill either, but these kits are great.

    my $.02

  2. If and when these wind mills are installed with the 12′ blades will we have to hire someone to go around at the base of the windmills each day and pick up the dead fowl which had tried to pass through the blades. In California this is one of the big complaints about wind turbine power. Killing off lots of endangered fowl.

  3. “Home Wind” had some fishy links in his comment. I’m guessing it was a drive-by spamming. So I’ve de-linked it, but left the comment, such as it is.

    Jogger, 12′ blades? That’s insane. That’s like saying nobody should build houses because they might build skyscrapers. Also, bird strikes at windmills are relatively rare. You might expect one or two annually on a single turbine of that size. My house kills 5-10 annually.

  4. Clearly the answer is that Waldo needs to tear down his house.

    Seriously, though, the number of birds killed by the coal power industry (via mountaintop removal coal mining, acid rain, accelerated climate change, large transmission lines, etc.) dwarfs the number of birds that would be killed by these wind turbines. It’s not even close.

  5. Waldo, how would they even see such a small wind turbine at your house. Is there windmill police? Can’t you be our Don Quixote?

  6. There’s something terribly wrong with a local government that starts with the assumption that “there might be something wrong with these windmills, but we don’t know what that might be and we don’t know how to regulate against it, but in the meantime, we’re just going to ban it”.

    Why not start with the study of (residential not commercial) windmills, what problems they many present and what other local localities are doing to regulate them? Give county staff 6 months to complete a report. (It doesn’t take 2 years to do this.) Then, if the county needs regulations to control the use, make the regulations.

    Ban? We don’t need no stinkin’ ban.

  7. Anyone know about regulations in the city? AND… what about that windmill on Rio between Greenbrier and Hillsdale? Isn’t that the county?


  8. Mr. Norris:

    You may be forgetting about another huge source of songbird loss:

    According to this study at the U of Wisconsin, CATS kill millions of songbirds a year. I can’t imagine a small residential windmill making that kind of impact on wildlife.

  9. Reason number 8,762 why so many people hate local government.

    What I do on my own rural property on which I personally reside is none of the planning commission’s business. This isn’t downtown Charlottesville. This isn’t a suburban planned community. This is not a major business enterprise. This is rural land that Waldo and I each live on and whether we want to build a windmill or a full scale model of the Millennium Falcon (or better yet the Aluminum Mallard) is none of the planning commission’s business.

  10. What would REALLY be the problem with individual homes generating as much of their own energy and water needs as possible? It could be a partial solution to so many of our growth/infrastructure problems.

    Wind and solar (even generators) and rain water collection systems would reduce the need for huge, expensive and destructive central municipal power and water facilities. I do not think we could eliminate the need for centralized municipal utilities, but reductions in the rate of growth of that need could easily be achieved.

    Why a ban? We gotta preserve the view. Oh, and loss of central control over people’s basic needs is intolerable.

  11. Dale, Waldo has admitted to killing 5-10 birds annually at his house. Multiply that by any number of resisdences with windmills and a significant number of birds are being wiped out on an annual basis. God forbid that a bird on the endangered species list be killed by one of these windmills. (It’s happening in California on a daily basis at the wind turbine farms)
    Endangering wildlife was one argument used against the wind turbines being placed in Highland County, just recently.

  12. If bird survival is so important then feral and outdoor cats should be hunted for bounty. That’s not my aim but if birds survival is endangered I would rather try to reduce carbon emissions, increase energy independence, and help the economy. People who don’t want they cats harmed can just keep them inside. Field mice, shrews, and moles every where massively support the plan as well,

    Skyscapers kill birds and they should probably be banned as well. And my sliding glass doors are also evil. Coal plants spew poison in the air, let’s close them as well.

    Little windmills seem like an unlikely threat to the avian world’s survival. It’s really silly to ban them.

  13. Dale, Waldo has admitted to killing 5-10 birds annually at his house. Multiply that by any number of resisdences with windmills and a significant number of birds are being wiped out on an annual basis.

    Jogger, you’ve failed to read the article. I don’t have a windmill. These are birds who just up and fly into the side of my house. I’ll hear a bang, and outside are their little bird corpses. I “kill” them in the sense that they fly into the immobile object that is my home.

  14. I happened to call the Albemarle County Police Non Emergency line a couple of years ago because there were a multiple helicopters taking off and landing every day near our neighborhood. I was concerned that they were doing so near a school and flying over other houses. The person answering my call told me that there were no bans on helicopters flying over neighborhoods and helipads could go anywhere. I never followed up on this but I find it ironic that there aren´t restrictions on helicopters and where they can take off and land while there are restrictions on wind turbines.

    As far as turbines in the county go, is there a blanket ban or is this based on your zoning. Can an area zoned agricultural, commercial, or industrial construct them. I´m almost sure I´ve seen them on my way to the Valley between Crozet and Greenwood. I think they´re on a farm on the right hand side of the road.

    I´ve heard about the wildlife concerns of wind turbines but I have to say I can´t imagine they kill more than conventional energy production (coal, nuclear, etc.) and its related industries. I like the idea of decentralizing the energy industry but I must say I disagree with ead. Having large scale energy, water, and other utilities is a good idea, maybe not necessarily in their current form. But we need to have reservoirs instead of little lakes or wells on every property. For example, instead of drilling for oil off the coast of Virginia we could build a massive tidal and wind farm. Only an idea.

  15. I had the benefit of talking to someone who works in wind power recently. What he said was that with the large windmills that they are no longer the threat to birds that they used to be. They we’re much more of a problem when they had a bunch of places that looked like good roosting spots. Now they put them on big single poles and they rotated slower (with more power) so they aren’t nearly the threat to birds that they once were. He did acknowledge that they are still a big problem in terms of killing bats. The problem there is not that they are hit, but rather that they create low air pressure which collapses the lungs of the bats. True, one must consider the source, but his science seemed to make sense. Also, he was talking the kind specifically for wind farms, and I’ve no idea how that would apply to smaller ones for home use.

    While being a bit sceptical, I am increasingly swayed by the argument that we’re killing more wildlife via mountain top removal. What if we selected mountains that would have been destroyed for coal and targeted them as optimal places for windmill farms? Of course, in Albemarle, we neither have and coal nor, in my understanding, is our power from coal. Doesn’t the vast majority of our power come from Lake Anna? That said, I’m sure mining uranium would be equally damaging, if not more.

  16. It is a real shame that even though Counties and Cities accross the country are adopting friendly zoning standards which would allow citizens to produce electricity in their own backyard. I am from the factory that produces the small wind generator in the article. We are a 20 year old business that has years of experience in designing safe, friendly and low cost wind generators. The company’s focus is developing innovative products that help American’s everywhere become more energy independent. Instead, the county planning commissioners have all but decided to keep this right out of the people. Even the Federal government has seen the potential of small wind and created a tax credit for everyone that is up to $4000 per system.

    Regarding the comments on birds – Our products are designed in such as way they minimize any impact on birds. Independent studies by the National Audobon Society has shown that Climate change is a far greater threat to birds than wind turbines. Even they support the industry.

    If people want their right to produce clean energy, they should be there at the hearing and expressing their desires.

  17. Doesn’t the vast majority of our power come from Lake Anna?

    The EPA says that about half of our power comes from coal, 39% from nuclear, and 5% gas. (At least for those of us on Dominion; many readers are outside of their service area.) They say we get 2% from hydroelectric and 2% from non-hydro renewables, which is news to me. When I checked six months ago, they said, simply, half coal and half nuclear. We emit more SO2 than the national average, but less CO2 and NO.

  18. As with the water supply proposal, this is a decision that has been made using few facts. I doubt if there is one planning commissioner that is up to date on current technology. They just gave a knee-jerk reaction to the pictures they have seen of wind farms they have seen on TV. Do they know have the energy is stored? How much energy is produced per windmill? How far can the energy travel from the farm with how much loss? As someone said above, they just don’t like how they look. For some reason that’s beyond me, they apparently like the way a 112 foot dam will look at Ragged Mtn. I guess it depends on your bandwagon of choice, because this problem-solving process has ended in not solving anything at all.

  19. I flipped when I saw this months electric bill, but later noticed it was metered for 37 days, I guess the meter readers were off for Christmas and New Years.

    Does Nelson have regulations on wind turbines?

  20. Cville Eye your last comment hit the nail on the head, “problem solving process has ended in solving nothing at all.”
    This seems to be the way things are done around this area, too much input, talk it to death, do nothing, move on to the next hot topic….repeat the process.

  21. For those complaining about the planning commission they should take some time to actually read the article in Cville Tomorrow. The planning commission meeting was a work session on the use of wind turbines and there was no vote taken either for or against their use. Indeed the question was asked if a request has ever came to planning staff to build a wind turbine and the answer was NO. So it would seem hard to complain about the planning commission for banning something that has never come before it for a vote.
    That said, the planning commission does get on a regular basis requests to build cell towers. These cell towers/poles, which raise to the height from 3 to 10 feet above the tree line and often raise concerns from adjoining residents. It’s here that one man’s freedom runs up against the freedom of others. Again if you read the Cville article the types of wind turbines presented before the planning commission would be in the range of 35 feet and more above the tree line.
    Again take the time to know the facts!

  22. So it would seem hard to complain about the planning commission for banning something that has never come before it for a vote.

    To the contrary, if it hasn’t been an issue, why do anything? Why would you ban something that might be a problem?

    It seems to me that we can make a distinction between cell towers (or wind turbines) that are erected as part of the infrastructure of commercial ventures and wind turbines that may be erected for the purpose of providing green power to one’s own home.

  23. After rereading Waldo’s original post, I wanted to amend my support for wind power in Albemarle. A few of the Southwest Mountains harbor rare or endangered species. Those specific mountains (Castle Rock Mountains, Fan Mountains) should be excluded unless it can be shown that they would not negatively impact the rare county resources that exist there.

    Also, Waldo, thanks for educating me about where our power comes from. I was not aware that around 50% of our power in Albemarle comes from coal. Of course, even if it came competely from nuclear, I still wouldn’t want us to create vast strip mines for uranium either!

  24. There seems to be some perception that the planning commission was asked to make a decision either up or down for wind turbines, which it wasn’t and is somehow considering a ban on wind tubines, which it isn’t. As for the distinction between cell towers and wind turbines the fact is there may be objections from adjacent land owners based either on the height of the wind tubine and its visual impact, which has been an issue with cell towers or because of the potential for damage to the adacent property if the tower should fall. Both issues are considered when a special use permit for a cell tower is submitted.

  25. @CrozetResident, I did read the article in Charlottesville Tomorrow. The fact that it as well as cell towers must come under a request for a special use permit effects a ban in my opinion.
    Do I remember currently that cell towers are banned from being within view of certain highways?
    BTW, what is the meaning of “visual impact?” I can see if the line of sight of airplanes are affected by a tower by endangering their passengers, but in this instance is it being used to mean “some people don’t like looking at it on somebody else’s property?

  26. One issue to consider is that a lot of the ridge tops in Albemarle, such as the Southwest Mountains & Fox Mountain, are under permanent conservation easement. Generally speaking easements do not permit such structures. This is an issue that a lot of easement holders are currently wrestling with, and as such their policies may change for future easements.

  27. Just for the record, the Planning Commission approved a motion 6-0 to ask staff to move forward developing an ordinace to allow the use of Wind Turbines in Albemarle County.

  28. what of folks who had previously installed windmills on their property? i think there is a least one farm in the county with them . . .

  29. I just looked at my Dominion bill, and the average annual rate for electricity was shown as 8.04 cents per KWH.

    According to averages for the 9 months through September, 2009, we fare well with Virginia’s average residential of 9.49 cents per KWH, and very well with the US average of 11.29 cents per KWH. Now, I am not at all sure that this is an accurate apples to apples comparison per KWH, but there is little doubt that this area prices are below national averages.

    Why? Well I think Waldo figured it out when he summarized where our power generation comes from. Now, there are a whole lot of folks out there, including pretty clearly in this discussion thread, who cannot stand the thought of coal or nuclear generation for electrical power. And that is well and good and I am not going to get into an argument over that here. In fact, I agree with those want to be able to install local wind power, and support alternative energy projects.

    But remember, electrical rates are on the rise as the costs of mining, transporting and burning coal becomes increasingly more expensive, and it will continue to rise. This result is going to hit those who can afford it the least, the hardest.

  30. To its credit. Perhaps the PC ought to invite people from the industry to also come to the table with the latest of technology. Since the clamor over dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir has been in the headlines, the public has gotten a lot of free information from those vying for a sale. And they didn’t have to eat up a lot of staff time or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it.

  31. Randy,

    I’m probably one of those people; however, I won’t say I’m against all coal, nor would I say that nuclear is the worst of all options. Out of the two, I dislike coal the most, because of the enourmous amount of polution, strip mining, and the cost in terms of the health and safety of workers. Coal companies haven’t exactly left a good legacy in Southwest Virgina or West Virginia. The argument for coal often revolves around jobs, and yet those are still exceedingly poor areas.

    As for energy costs, I’d argue that prices should increase. They are artificially low right now due to vast subsidies. The only way that technologies like wind will become viable is if the prices for conventional energy rises. Once a market forms for alternative energy, the price will come down again as the technology improves. Besides, as we saw recently, if we don’t raise the prices then eventually they will raise themselves…

    Will that hurt your average person? Yeah, probably, over the short term. Over the long term, fossil fuels stand to cause even more hardship to the average person, so it’s worth some short term pain to decrease our need for them.

  32. The coal mines of today are nothing like those of 30 or more years ago. They are safer, health risks are much less, and reclamation requirements are stringent. Miners are paid well, are skilled workers, and have alternative forms of employement if they choose. Yes, there are outliers, but not unlike any community, only the bad apples get the press. Clean air acts make pollution much less of an issue today than years ago. The biggest issue is carbon emissions, and that is being researched.

    Having said that, coal is a finite resource, so regardless of any other issue, that is why alternatives and nuclear generation need to be pursued, along with intensive conservation methods.

    Heavily subsidized? I would like to see how. Mines pay all kinds of taxes, and yes, there is a percentage depletion Federal tax break, but it is subject to the AMT, and many companies do not come close to using all the reported breaks.

    Increases in electricity costs are an inconvenience for some, for many others, it is another step into poverty.

  33. Virginia Code section 58.1-433.1, provides a credit of $3 per ton of coal mined in Virginia purchased and consumed by electric utilities

    Virginia Code section 58.1-439.2, provides a tax credit for the mining of coal in Virginia, based on the thickness of the coal seam and the method. It provides a credit for surface-mined coal of 40 cents per ton.

    In many States mining is exempt from any royalties from resources removed from State lands. For example, a mining company can remove the top of a mountain, remove the coal and not pay the taxpayers of that state a dime to the tax payers of that state.
    The Federal government offers a number of subsidies that range from minimal penalties resulting from the use of coal (acid rain, poor sludge containment, etc.). Retired miners use Medicare to pay health issues resulting in damage due to working in the mines. In FY 2007 the coal industry received $2.4B in research dollars for “refined Coal” which is a process of mixing high and low sulfur coal along with attempts at removing heavy metal prior to burning. There are many others as well.
    New promising technologies should be subsidized to stimulate the respective industry and make it competitive. However all subsidies should eventually be forced to expire. No technology should ever live on the backs of American tax payers for ever. Unfortunately this rarely happens. The oil industry has the oil depletion act of the late 1920’s that still exists today.

  34. Randy, if miners are “paid well”, then why does UVa have to send a large crew of volunteers to southwest Virginia each year just to tend to basic health care. For example, you should see the huge number or teeth they extract just over a few days.

    If coal brings such wealth to miners, one would expect to see these areas booming; however we all know that’s not the case. In fact, I can’t think of a single area where coal is the mian industry where the people there are not in a general state of poverty.

    In fact, the only time we’ve ever sent the air force to drop bombs on civilians on U.S. soil was when Coal Miners protested their working conditions.

    So, while I think wind still has some environmental costs that are concerning, it is vastly preferable to coal.

  35. Maybe not everyone who lives there mines coal. Maybe some of them do not engage in gainful employment.

  36. Hmm, a lot thrown out and I have little time to respond, but have a few comments:

    Andy, you are right about the Virginia coal credit, it has been a while since I have been involved with this, however, I am fairly certain that you cannot do both of these credits you outlined. Also, I know that the credits were spread over a number of years, and were higher, as you stated, for thin seam mining, which of course is higher costs. To get either, you needed to maintain jobs. It helped, but not enough for many operations as the Virginia coal mines have been in decline for over a decade due to reserve depletion.

    Which leads me to Lonnies point. Yes, it is a blessing UVA medical profession have taken the time to go down to Southwest Virginia and provide free medical services for so many. Here is an article I saw in the Post.

    I would like to excerpt something:

    …This is coal country, with an economy that has ridden a boom-and-bust cycle from the arrival of the railroads in the 1880s to the passage of the Clean Air Act almost a century later. The richest seams of coal have dwindled, and many of the remaining jobs have been replaced by mechanization. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the poverty rate in Wise County is 19.2 percent — more than twice that of the rest of Virginia. The per capita income is only about $14,000 a year….

    Bottom line, these folks that are having medical issues are typically not those who still have jobs working in coal operations, which tend to have very good medical benefits. Again, coal operations today are not typically the ones of 30 years ago, as I have already stated (putting aside the bad apples, which every industry has).

    Waldo, your google list is predominately coal to liquids credits for R&D associated with attempts to use US coal to reduce the amount of imported oil, and carbon sequestion R&D to fight global warming. Coal producers do not see this money, though of course, if it increases demand for coal; that is a good thing for them, no different than ethanol subsidizes helps farmers.

    I did not have time to get past the first five or so on your list. Perhaps next time we should google alternative energy subsidies…?

  37. Waldo, you are right.

    Coal subsidies showed 2,110,000 hits.

    Alternative energy subsidies had 805,000 hits.

    I think I will go back to bed.

  38. I would suggest that people begin thinking about energy as a cost to society. When we turn a light on, we are consuming a unit of energy which is generally measured on your electric bill as a kWh (kilowatt Hour). So ask yourself, to produce that unit of energy, what is the cost to society? For coal, it has to be mined, processed, transported, burned and then the ash is disposed. Within that process, the cost to society are health issues for miners and the people around the power plants; water that’s consumed to produce steam; tree damage due to particulate matter; medicare which cost taxpayers; the cost of cleaning up the ash by a EPA superfund or FEMA to deal with flooded homes. The list is actually longer. All of these issues have an impact on your wallet in different ways. As they say, there is no free lunch. You pay less for electricity but you pay more for water or medical insurance.

    I am not saying that coal is bad. I believe we need all energy resources. But in order to keep our children from having to clean up our mess, we must look at ways to use coal that is smart. Yes, it will cost more for electricity but how much less will that impact the rest of our society?

    The EIA stated that the electric generation industry spends less than 3% of their revenue on research while the average industry spend between 10-15%. It is time we force the electric power industry to go the same direction we are forcing the auto industry.

    What is the cost to society for a kWh for wind? Or Solar?

    Think about it…

  39. The same can be said about growing food in farms. The ground has to be prepared, the seed has to be planted, the produce has to be harvested then processed, transported, sold, and its waste must be disposed. Obesity, allergies, etc. costs society in many ways. I have no intention of sitting in my house cold nor am I planning to grow my own vegetables. Let’s not get carried away on this environmental stuff, beavers couldn’t give a rat’s behind about it.

  40. Waldo, you are right.
    Coal subsidies showed 2,110,000 hits.
    Alternative energy subsidies had 805,000 hits.

    Although, to be fair, that really proves nothing in my favor. :)

  41. For coal, it has to be mined, processed, transported, burned and then the ash is disposed. Within that process, the cost to society are health issues for miners and the people around the power plants; water that’s consumed to produce steam; tree damage due to particulate matter; medicare which cost taxpayers; the cost of cleaning up the ash by a EPA superfund or FEMA to deal with flooded homes.

    That’s right—coal treats the environment as an externality. Can you imagine a windmill manufacturer getting permission to level a mountain, dump the resulting dirt to fill in an entire valley, and using that dirt to cover up rejected windmill parts? That would be crazy. But somehow it’s OK with coal. Go figure.

    The same can be said about growing food in farms. The ground has to be prepared, the seed has to be planted, the produce has to be harvested then processed, transported, sold, and its waste must be disposed.

    Could be? It’s said all the time! That’s precisely the source of the enormous interest in organic and local farming, plus eating in season. I don’t eat apples in June, I don’t buy steak in September, and I don’t have tomatoes in January. I could, but that would be a) expensive and b) supporting a terrible wasteful process.

  42. “That’s precisely the source of the enormous interest in organic and local farming, plus eating in season.” That’s what we HAD to do when we were children. Chalbemarle had a total population of around 50,00 and a lot more small farmers whose monetary income depended a lot upon local sales. A lot of malnourishment issues then, even with the canning, preserving of vegeatables and meat, and, later, freezing. I thought you have already presented a link to a study done by students at UVA that indicated that, in this region, local farmers can not produce enough food for the population in central VA.
    As far as strip mining goes, the earth’s crust is constantly changing geologically. I heard the other night that this is the third instance of the Rocky Mountains in hundreds of millions of years. With the ongoing processes such as volcanic actions and teutonic shifts creating land and natural processes of erosion caused by wind and water, plant and animal life, climate, populations and forms of flora and fauna are in a constant state of flux. With or without man, these processes will continue. All of the strip mining in the world pales in comparison.

  43. Cville –

    You are correct and I have no intention of growing my own vegetables either. I feel its about first being aware and then finding the balance without having to give up what society has worked so hard to create. But ask yourself – Does it really make sense that a company can build giant greenhouses in Costa Rica using cheap labor and overhead; grow roses by the millions; harvest them and then fly them back to the U.S. in old gutted out in-efficient commerical airliners so that your better half can enjoy them for a few days? Or should that company be required to look at the overall impact of its actions and then build a greenhouse in Alabama (where it is warm) and closer? I am a capitalist and I believe in the global market but only when it makes sense.

    Trivia – I live in Arizona water is difficult to come by. A government lab (Sandia) did a study on water consumption of a coal plant (we have a lot of coal here too). A power plant consumes one gallon per kWh. The average home consumes 1000 kWh/month. Wind and solar generators consume no water.

  44. I thought you have already presented a link to a study done by students at UVA that indicated that, in this region, local farmers can not produce enough food for the population in central VA.

    No, their study found that local farmers don’t produce enough food to feed the area population. NAFTA and related globalization treaties have resulted in the lowest cost goods coming from overseas, and the same goes for food. The bad news is that their health standards there are nonexistent, so you might be eating melamine. But, hey, it’s cheap, so we buy it.

    As far as strip mining goes, the earth’s crust is constantly changing geologically. I heard the other night that this is the third instance of the Rocky Mountains in hundreds of millions of years. With the ongoing processes such as volcanic actions and teutonic shifts creating land and natural processes of erosion caused by wind and water, plant and animal life, climate, populations and forms of flora and fauna are in a constant state of flux. With or without man, these processes will continue. All of the strip mining in the world pales in comparison.

    But surely you see that this logic is just goofy. You can justify anything in geological time. Our concern isn’t that we’re harming the planet. Because, seriously, fuck the planet. We can change it, but we can’t harm it; we’re a part of nature, too. Our concern is that we’re harming us. Why is it bad to strip a mountain down to half its height and fill in the neighboring valleys with waste? Because it leaves streams terribly polluted, making them carriers of awful chemicals that make our children sick and our fish inedible. Because it renders enormous areas of our country uninhabitable. Because it destroys the beauty that drew people to live there (or their ancestors) in the first place. Because it devastates habitat that supports and ecosystem that provides the deer that sustain the people who live there. Because we cannot predict, ultimately, the effects of leveling a mountain that took 100 million years to form, but we can be assured that they will be bad.

    So we could go ahead and commit genocide, because fauna are in a constant state of flux, and without man, these processes will continue. Or we could not. I like that better.

  45. Waldo, don’t be so hysterical (I’ve never seen you write the wor f— before). Whether the coal is underground or exposed, water comines with the minerals and other substances around the coal and continues to seep until it comes out above ground and the harmful substances end up in our streams anyway. Stone and coal fragments also end there and often becomes river roack. Sulfur combines and adds to acid rain. If it happens faster by mining it is disapated faster unless it ends up in something like a quarry. One equakequake can release underground gases which may or may not be harmful. All of this is going on in less than a mile underground, sometimes beginning on mountain tops. Part of my point is, the use of the mine in a specific area is limited, but the constant “polluting” of the earth’s crust is ongoing, just as changes in the earth’s climates.

  46. Another point, I’m not sure we can ascribe all of these illnesses to coal mining, coal burning, or fossil fuel burning. One time we ascribed them unscientifically to driving.

  47. Mr. Eye:

    Sorry, I can’t let this shockingly bad logic go by unchallenged.

    I think I’ll go over to Waldo’s house and shoot his dog. I admit that this would be bad for the dog in the short term. But in terms of geologic time, it doesn’t matter.

    I think I’ll take a dump on his porch, too. You see, there’s sewage in Waldo’s septic tank. Eventually, that’ll all leach into the ground… so it’s all the same, right?


  48. As much as I love him, you can’t get people like Cville Eye to see the point environmentally. I do think that anyone can see, though, the writing on the wall in terms of economics. Fossil fuels are finite. What do we have, another twenty years? Another thirty? Possibly less? The quicker we become the inventors/producers of alternative energies, the better off we will be economically. Period.

  49. @ Hawkins Dale, My brother’s septic tank backed up last September. He cleaned it up and put in new floors and wall board in the basement and everything’s all right in the world. In the long run, whoever buys his house won’t know the difference.
    @Voice of Doom, it is true: “The quicker we become the inventors/producers of alternative energies, the better off we will be economically. Period.” And, once science has developed the alternatives, we should use them. Until then, I’m not sitting in a cold house.
    @Waldo, most people who spent a portion of their childhood having coal fires to heat every room in the house other than the bath and kitchen have no love for coal, just some appreciation. Reality says, at this time, we can not stop mining coal nor using it. I did not say that mining should not be regulated, but, I am saying that the all forms of energy usage should not rise in price so that people will find it cheaper to use solar and wind. If I can’t afford either of the latter now, I won’t be able to afford anything that costs more. The idea that solar and wind will become more affordable with more users is the same as saying that the more stainless steel appliances that people use, the cheaper they will become. In truth, the opposite has happened. I just saw a stainless steel fridge on TV the other day for over $10k. These formas of energy will lower in price by using science to improve efficiency. Otherwise, if you’re concerned about the homeless now, you will have greater concerns or out of sight subsidies to the consumer.

  50. I must say some of these comments have very interesting perspectives. Of course, the issue that still remains is should the County adopt a zoning standard that is friendly to small scale personal wind turbines or continue with things the way they are? Should people be allowed to suppliment their electricity needs using the wind or continue the way things are today?


  51. I missed you entry that the board decided to move forward. :) OK – Back to comparing time to taking a dump on the front porch…

    Seriously, the cost of renewables will continue to come down. For large wind: in the late 1980’s the cost of wind exceeded $.40/kWh today it is in the $.07/Kwh. Solar was over $1/kWh today it is around $.28/kWh. We understand the physics of wind so driving cost down has a lot to do with larger machines or, seriously, higher volume with small wind turbies. For solar, it is a chemstry issue. Efficiency has increased from about 8% to about 18% today. There have been breakthroughs which exceed 30% but the process is still expensive. Thin film is coming back and it too has promise. Solar will eventually discover the “magic” formula. Perhaps one day these technolgies will be “too cheap to meter”.

  52. Sigh, I said on my very first post I was not going to get into an argument about mining, but I have to respond, principally to Waldo’s post. I will never be able to convince Waldo or anyone as passionate as he presented his case that surface mining is a reasonable way to mine coal, but I want to comment on a few things, without repeating what I have already said:

    1) The notion that a surface mine shaves off half the mountain and dumps chemicals and waste in a stream is bunk. Perhaps certain environmental groups like to take people over active mines to show off the process as it is going to suggest decimation, but has anyone taken groups over a fully reclaimed site after the vegetation has been restored?

    Trees are planted, streams are flowing again, and nature returns. Last time I checked birds know how to fly; they leave during the mining process, and come back when the land is reclaimed. You know that waste you claim is being dumped into streams, that is called rock, don’t make it sound like something toxic coming out of a Charlottesville office building.

    2) Where in the world are you getting your propaganda information that the land is rendered uninhabitable? In present day mining, companies are required to post bonds to ensure the land is reclaimed. How many shopping centers, roads, bridges, office buildings, manufacturing plants, homes and parking lots have similar requirements?

    3) A tax is assessed on current mines to pay for reclamation of pre-law surface mines that did not require reclamation decades ago. Let me repeat, a tax on current mining, it does not matter if the current mine had nothing to do with what was left 50 or more years ago. This tax is what we call the opposite of a subsidy.

    These are just a few comments, and I could go on, but I won’t, I am done with this topic.

  53. Mountaintop removal is a bit like a lobotomy. You’ve got to have your skull sawed open, the top removed, and a chunk of your brain removed. Sure, you get your head back, and you’re still alive when it’s done. But neither you nor are I going to volunteer to have one, and there’s no argument to be made that the result is generally desirable.

    For those unfamiliar, here are a couple of pictures of mountaintop removal. The idea is that you shave off the top ~1,000 feet of a mountain. Just remove it entirely. And the mountain that’s removed gets dumped into the valley adjacent. So instead of a mountain and a valley, you’ve got a rubble field that looks a bit like the surface of Mars. Anything that was alive there is either below 1,000 feet or rubble or mixed into it. Then, where the mountain was, they dig a huge pit. By next year, an area the size of Delaware will have been leveled like this, in Kentucky and West Virginia. The remaining land is useless for anything other than forestry, which is to say growing trees for the purpose of harvesting them as a crop. It’s no coincidence that the areas where this is being done are the very poorest in the nation. (The only people getting rich off of mining live far, far away from where this stuff is done.)

    The Bush Administration has made this practice far worse than it used it be (and it used to be pretty bad). They provide permits to let the waste be dumped into rivers and streams, completely filling them in. So what was once a water source for livestock, a source of food in the form of fish, etc…well, it ceases to exist entirely. That got worse still just last month, when the White House changed their rules to allow waste to dumped into headwaters—that is, for mining companies to knowingly pollute water that will pollute downriver.

    Oh, and when all of that mined coal is processed, you end up with coal sludge. They store it in enormous sludge ponds, each of which holds billions of gallons of the stuff. Those are held in place by dams of dubious quality. Every so often one will break, sending the horrid stuff racing downhill, wiping out and polluting everything in its way.

    Yeah… Mountaintop removal mining is just awful. It won’t be long until we look back and wonder how in the world anybody ever thought that was a good idea.

    Pictures of reclamation in various stages×313.jpg&imgrefurl= link for online article to support Waldo’s claim that the Bush administration renamed “waste” to “fill” and allowed dumping in streams. Also, interesting comments about mercury.

  55. Today’s Daily Progress reports that a proposed bill in the Va. Legislature “would exempt the purchase of residential renewable energy systems–such as wind or solar power generating devices from the state sales tax” …”Yet another bill..would allow the city to start a clean energy program that could offer residents incentives to purchase renewable energy-generating equipment or make energy efficiency improvements .”

    I think everyone on this blog would agree that sustainable solutions for our energy needs are the way of the future. That is why Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan along with the Sierra Club,the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation Board , 6 city neighborhood associations, 481 petition signatories and the Albemarle Citizens for a Sustainable Population has called for a re-evaluation of dredging and the costs both financial, environmental and from an energy perspective of the Current 50 year water concept. One just can’t call it a plan since there are no costs associated with it or accurate population figures on which it is based. Our community has decreased it’s water usage for the past 6 years and all indications are that that will continue.

    Water Technologies are bound to transform the way we use water in the next 50 years. None of this was factored into the present concept.

    Let’s all support these bills in the General Assembly and encourage our local government to buy Green Kits which reduce water usage 34% and save 100’s of dollars for all residents, thereby reducing the need for hundred’s of millions of dollars of new infrastructure and the environmental devastation of a new dam.

  56. Here are some sites that discuss reclamation and post mine land use, as well as mining in general. I avoided the web sites for National Mining Association, West Virginia Mining Association, as I am sure you would ignore these, the same that I ignore propaganda put out by environmental groups whose sole purpose is to stop mining at all costs.

    Listen, I am no expert on the handling of coal refuse (coming out of preparation plants that separate coal from rock) or coal ash, but I do know one technique is for them to be sent to sediment ponds for settling and de watering (when in a preparation plant, the refuse has already been mixed with water as part of the separation process). The accident in Tennessee is a situation where a dam broke. Of course, everything needs to be done to ensure these areas are properly maintained and that there are no spills. Over time, the refuse or ash settles, the area reclaimed. It is inaccurate to suggest these areas are perpetually maintained as some sort of coal ash or refuse dump.

    It should be understood this is only one technique, another used significantly is to truck the refuse material to a dry storage location, where it is piled up over time similar to a trash dump, and then reclaimed later. Coal ash is also used for other purposes such as concrete block construction.

    I hope everyone understands that many of the processes used in coal mining are no different than quite a few other manufacturing processes. How is steel made, aluminum, plastic, asphalt for roads, roofing material, chemicals, etc. etc. etc. We need to find ways of getting this country back into manufacturing safely all of our basic commodities and material needs. If we wash our hands of this and export all of it overseas, then the problems facing the economy now will be minor compared to the future. Take a look at how the Russians are holding portions of Europe hostage on gas consumption, are we going to let that happen here?

  57. The cost of small residential wind is about $.15-.19/kWh depending on the wind and siting.

    Randy – Wow, I am not sure where you get your information – clearly others here have sent great info about the realities of mountain top removal. You are correct that these mining operations are required to post bonds. However, you really need to do some research. Look at “voice of Doom’s” entry. The sludge flood was not the first and sadly it will not the last.

    That is terriffic to see the State is looking at exempting sales taxes for renewables. last year the Fed’s passed legislation for a tax credit up to $4000 on small wind. I just read the new tax legislation and now Congress is looking at expanding that even further.

  58. ” I avoided the web sites for National Mining Association, West Virginia Mining Association, as I am sure you would ignore these, the same that I ignore propaganda put out by environmental groups…”
    @Randy, don’t underestimate the fairness of the people on this blog. Forx example, I inclued in my post two examples of stripped mountain tops in the process of reclamation and one from anvironmental group that is very critical of the practice. There are no sides to truth; it is either true or not. Were there elevated levels of arsenic in the area where the sludge dam broke? Yes. Would it have been made public if not for the citizens groups? Possibly in some obscure document filed in a vault somewhere, figurably speaking. I’m sure you do not wish anyone to ignore a sludge dam break. Now that the industry AND the regulators know that some members of the public are aware of the situation, changes can be made in process implementation that will benefit all. I’m detecting some hostility from you that I feel is unnecessary. I am enjoying everyone’s input, including yours.

  59. I hope everyone understands that many of the processes used in coal mining are no different than quite a few other manufacturing processes. How is steel made, aluminum, plastic, asphalt for roads, roofing material, chemicals, etc. etc. etc. We need to find ways of getting this country back into manufacturing safely all of our basic commodities and material needs.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Randy. In that regard, we both want the same thing. To answer your question, I think the difference is one of a) scale and b) daily impact. The mining of coal is a truly enormous operation, and its environmental impact is significantly worse than, say, manufacturing asphalt. And its impact is greater on all of us, because few of us have a steel bill to pay every month, but we all pay a power bill. (Mine was $350 this month. Urk.) Combined with the drumbeat of bad news related to coal mining (the periodic collapses, courtesy of a poorly-managed federal regulatory program and mining companies who are insufficiently concerned about the wellbeing of their employees), coal mining is in a prime position to be the source of a lot of angst on the part of the American public.

    If we wash our hands of this and export all of it overseas, then the problems facing the economy now will be minor compared to the future.

    That’s right, as will the environmental problems. As bad as strip-mining and mountaintop removal is here, I don’t doubt that we do it ten times better than China. That’s why it’s better to move to renewable energy than to continue to use coal and oil. There is a finite quantity of accessible coal and oil within the boundaries of the United States. Eventually we’ll run out. Now, we can wait until that happens, and then either a) pick a country to invade to ensure a continued supply of fuel or b) go without for years until we get up to speed on renewables. Or we can just go ahead and start transitioning to renewables now. We might run out of accessible coal, but we’ll never run out of wind. :)

  60. The energy/coal issue is exactly what has brought Mr. Crutchfield and other energy conscious citizens into the debate about an electricity run uphill pipeline needed to fill the new reservoir. With the rate hikes for electricity the cost will be enormous to pump the third largest river uphill.
    comments from Mr. Crutchfield:
    How much money will local water customers pay and how large is the carbon footprint for the incremental electricity production? Little has been said about the energy needed to pump enormous quantities of water through a 9.5 mile pipeline and then up a small mountain. Prudent businesspeople would factor the financial and environmental costs of a plan that requires the use of so much electrical energy.

  61. I can, I can. Operating UVA Medical Center 24/7. They will not be dredging every day for the next 50 years as they will be using that pipeline. Doesn’t using gravity make more sense?

  62. In Albemarle, do we have wind here or breezes for the most part?
    @Betty Mooney, it seems the environmentalists in this area, other than the Sierra Club, are not particularly interested in thw water supply plan and the destruction of the Ragged Mtn Natural Area with the construction of a new 112 foot dam and miles of roadway. Am I right?

  63. Using the pipeline 20 days a year with solar panels to power the pump versus a very high intensity dreding operation for months or years on end, I think dredging will use far far more energy.

  64. @But… We drink water everyday, not twenty times a year. There has been no proposal to use solar power to pump any water anywhere around here. Questions: how much enegy will it take to pump the water and what kind of solar energy installation will it take to provide that energy, and where will it be located?

  65. I doubtt seriously if the necessary power will come from a combination of individually owned solar-wind turbines providing their unused electricity back to the grid.

  66. This just proves the point that the uphill pipeline on which the whole water concept depends is at present just that a concept not a plan. Where is there a community anywhere doing this with solar power and what does it cost and could the RWSA operate such a system ?

    CvilleEye, although the Piedmont Environmental Council and Nature Conservancy are behind the uphill pipeline many other environmentalists feel there is insufficient information to support it and are asking for more information before signing off on this scheme.

  67. In Albemarle, do we have wind here or breezes for the most part?

    Yup. I described in the post originally, the Blue Ridge along the western edge of the county is great, and the Southwest Mountains aren’t bad, either. We’re not up to snuff for wind farms, unfortunately, but we’re in great shape for small wind.

  68. Will that allow, say people in the Keswick area to use the proposed individually-owned wind turbines?

  69. But, where did you get the information about dredging

    and where does it say the pipeline would be used 20 days a year?

    Part of the problem is that I and probably But are amateurs who know nothing about water supply systems and that is why we have called for dredging surveys by experts in the field of dredging, and water supply planning done by those with known expertise and the ability to accurately estimate costs before going forward

  70. This is a good point for me to say Waldo is entitled to the last word on the mining issues as the owner of this blog. I appreciate the opportunity to make my views known, and for he and others who have read them.

    Cville Eye, I would like to respond to your point to me. Unlike some other commentators (on other topics, such as the Hook article a couple weeks ago) who are relentless and have gotten personal, please understand that I do not intend any hostility. Perhaps I just got carried away with a comment or two, but did not intend to blow off points from others. I do read this blog regularly, and find this interesting (though only wade into a topic here and there). Even though I disagree with certain views, I find that you are right that many commentators are fair. I am a 25 year resident of Albemarle, and many who have views separate than mine are still neighbors.

    Let me just close by agreeing with Waldo 100% on the topic of expanding use of alternative energy. He and others are against coal mining (or at least surface mining techniques) and consequently support expansion of alternative energy. I intensely support coal mining, but recognize this is a finite resource, so support alternative energy projects. Common ground can be found even in instances of polar opposites on certain viewpoints.

  71. @Betty:
    Karen Joyner, Tom Jones and Mark Fletcher

    “On average, that pipeline would operate fewer than 20 days a year because the [reservoir] is there for use during times of drought,” Schuyler said. However, Schuyler said the pipeline would need to be operated more frequently following droughts in order to refill Ragged Mountain. He reminded the task force that the purpose of expanding Ragged Mountain is to build a bigger storage for use during droughts. posted on Charlottsville Tomrow on December 8, 2008.

  72. @Randy, “some hostility” means a tiny bit. Can anyone tell me what I was trying to write when using “figurabl?y” I can’t come up with a thing.
    I think we all are convinced that we need to employ alternative sources of energy to that provided by fossil fuels; however, there is another discussion looming in the background concerning renewable energy obtained from oxydizing organic fuels such as E85.

  73. I am in DC and was at at a party last night. I met your new Senator Mark Warner. I mentioned my involvement in this blog. He stated that there were challenges in zoning for large wind turbines in the State. I replied that the county, although initially resistant but has decided to move forwrd with a new zoning standard. He was very happy to hear that and suggested writing to him if there are any issues. I told him I would. First time I met the guy and I don’t know his polotics but seems like a great person.


  74. “Mark Graham, Director of Community Development, explained that the best places for wind turbines in Albemarle County would be along ridgelines. He presented two possible scenarios for wind turbines in Albemarle County, one where turbines would be built 30ft taller than the surrounding tree canopy and one in which shorter turbines could be used but the surrounding trees would need to be cleared. “The big issue we have to deal with is the height you need to get the turbines above the things that would block the wind,” Graham said. ”
    Does this statement reflect the current state of wind turbine technology? Is the staff really saying it’s plate is full and can not do a sufficient job to craft good legislation? Is this a case of rushing a process without gathering enough information as with the water supply proposal? Is the door open to those in the private sector who are up-to-date with current technology and that which is in the pipeline?

  75. I’m watching this recorded show on PBS about the California’s governor’s plans for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in his state. Ed Begley, Jr. has a what appears to be a one story home with 2 kilowatt solar panels and a wind turbine on his roof. The turbine appears to be no taller than 10 feet. His neighbor, Bill Nye (The Science Guy) is copying him. Mye also has a separately solar powered hot water heater. He said that Begley recharges his totally electric car using solar energy. So, maybe the answer for some homeowners is to install appliance-dedicated panels and turbines that will cut back on the amount spent and not use a cookie cutter appraoch

  76. Cville Eye – Mark Graham is correct, sort of. Ridge lines are generally the best place to install large mega-watt class wind turbines as that is where the highest winds are. However, for small wind turbines, they have to be placed where the people are. Granted there are a number of places where small wind turbines do not work so the other options is solar or even better, plain old conservation/efficiency. In general, we always tell consumers to begin with Efficiency first.

    We passed on the Ed Begley as their producer wanted a percentage of our gross for turbines that he was responsible for selling. I told him it was impossible to track that. Looked like great visibility but not so good legal issues. Good advice for everyone out there, roof top wind turbines are extremely difficult to site. Unless you really know what you are doing and can properly site them through a difficult process of resource modeling, stay away. It is extremely important that wind turbines are placed in places where there is low turbulance.


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