A new type of energy as old as the earth may be coming to Southwest VirginiaDominion Virginia Power and BP Wind Power announced their plans to build wind farms in Wise and Tazwell Counties at a public informational meeting on Tuesday at the Appalachia Community Center. The windmills will be placed Northwest of Appalachia just south of Black Mountain along the Kentucky-Virginia border.

Community members trickled in and out of the three hour meeting, including Carmen Cantrell. She comes from a long line of coal miners. “My paternal grandfather was the Secretary of the United Mine Workers of America when they formed here,” said Cantrell.

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But, that does not mean she is wedded to coal. The prospect of a new wind farm in Wise County excites her. It is Dominion Power that does not. She wondered if “they really are sincere about wanting to convert over to this 12 percent energy generation from windmills.”

People like Cantrell came to the meeting with lots of questions and a dose of skepticism. They wondered everything from if the plan is economically viable, to if Dominion really has their best interests at heart. Skeptical because Dominion is building a new coal-fired power plant in the county as well. “I just think it’s a contradiction…on one end of the county they’re doing something nice, on the other end of the county it’s just not very nice at all,” said meeting attendee Jane Brenham.

Like Cantrell, Brenham grew up in a family of coal miners, and does not trust Dominion. “I was skeptical thinking they are trying to clean up their image or they’re trying to get carbon offsets from a wind project,” said Brenham.

Skepticism aside, she said the company’s move toward renewable energy in Wise does have its benefits. “It’s perhaps one less mountain blown up, one less stream buried forever. So, it is a step in the right direction,” said Brenham.

Possibly even more important to a county with a soaring poverty rate, job creation. “A 60 megawatt wind farm could produce 100 to 150 jobs during the 12 month construction period, maybe 10-15 jobs during operation of the facility,” said Emil Avram, Director of Business Development for Dominion.

But do not count on those jobs just yet. If the wind farms come to fruition, construction won’t start until 2012.

One thing that makes the wind farms attractive to Dominion is a Virginia Law passed in 2007 that provides incentives to public utilities that generate 12 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

If you missed today’s meeting, there is another coming up on April 2 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Mountain Empire Community College’s Goodloe Center.

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