Despite snowy roads that kept some people stuck at home, two public meetings on the proposed Tucker County pumped storage garnered high turnout this week.
The County Development Authority and Planning Commission had a number of technical questions about how the project would purchase power and generate revenue. Freedomworks is still working on making agreements with renewable energy power providers to power the facility, and have not yet reached an agreement with the utility company to sell their power into the grid, so there are still many unknowns.
One Tucker County resident whose name we did not catch pointed out that the pumped storage system will be a net power consumer due to inefficiencies, taking 20% more power out of the grid than it puts in. Freedomworks conceded the point, but stated that even with that energy loss the project would be economically viable due to their ability to “buy low and sell high” in terms of energy costs.
Some information provided only raised more questions. For example, even after the 36 billion gallon reservoir is initially filled using water from the Cheat River, an unspecified amount of additional water will be taken from wells in order to replace water lost to evaporation. Further, while the project plan has been changed to avoid surface impacts on Big Run Bog – a welcome improvement – the impact of running 12-foot-wide pipes underneath the Bog still needs to be evaluated.
Davis resident Lon Marshall decried the project’s potential impacts to Mill Run, a pristine tier 3 trout stream, and the potential dangers posed by the presence of abandoned mine lands in the area of the upper reservoir. Both these concerns were raised by multiple people at both meetings. Joe Dumire, a Thomas resident and local history expert, noted that care should be taken with both historical and environmental resources in the area, while Marian Harless referenced a different kind of history – the attempt to build a similar facility in Canaan Valley in the 1970s. That project failed, and many of the areas that would have been flooded are now notable recreation destinations, including the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.
Several speakers, including Saundra Goss and Matt Hauger, highlighted the need to ensure that any projects don’t impact the appeal of the area to potential new residents and visitors. Hauger noted that the location of the upper reservoir could make it visible from much of the Blackwater Canyon area. Friends of the Cheat brought preliminary GIS maps of the viewshed of the project, which were created by WVU and suggest that visibility is likely to be an issue.
The question of jobs came up multiple times throughout the evening, and Freedomworks assertion that the facility would provide 24 skilled jobs and 26 “support” jobs was met with a positive response from the audience. However, some residents wanted assurances that the job and revenue projections will pan out, with Elaine Moore asking the County Commission if there was any way they could get the company to make guarantees related to local employment, job training, or other promised benefits. Several people brought up the County’s experience with wind turbines, in which the tax revenue actually received has turned out to be a small fraction of what was originally promised.
County Planner Dennis Filler acted as the facilitator for both meetings, and emphasized that this was the first step in a long development process. County residents and the government are still learning about this issue, and Freedomworks still needs to conduct many studies on the feasibility and environmental impact of the project. There are also many other government agencies who will have a say on this project, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service, and the WV Division of Natural Resources.
Hopefully, additional public meetings will be scheduled throughout the county as this process progresses.
The image featured at the top of this article is of Big Run Bog.