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Mountaintop Use: Coal Mining vs. Wind Farming

The West Virginia state motto goes “Montani semper liberi” or “Mountaineers are always free.” But the coal-filled mountains of the Appalachia aren’t free and for decades have been owned by big coal companies, which have been content to extract the coal and destroy the mountain in the process. But a grassroots organization in the Coal River Valley is standing up to a proposed mountaintop removal mine by countering with a potential wind farm on the same mountain. Massey Energy has plans to strip-mine 10 square miles of the Coal River Mountain but Coal River Mountain Project, a local advocacy group, thinks the mountain could be better used as a 440 megawatt wind farm.

Coal River Mountain Project had WindLogics, a wind energy consultancy, assess the potential of Coal River Mountain for wind energy and found that it would be an ideal site for 220 2-megawatt turbines, an installation that would be one of the biggest wind farms on the East Coast.

In comparing the numbers, Coal River Mountain Project says a coal mine would provide fewer than 200 jobs over the course of 14 years, compared to more than 200 jobs in the first two years of construction of the wind farm and 50 permanent jobs over the lifetime of the farm, which should far exceed 14 years. The farm would bring in an estimated $40 million in direct spending during construction and could generate up to $3 million in tax revenue annually. Massey Energy has not yet returned a request for comment.

The group says it has already seen nearly 500 West Virginia mountains leveled in the search of coal. Residents are worried what will happen to their coal-dependent economy if carbon caps make coal a less attractive energy source. The group makes a compelling economic case for wind over coal, and with an impending carbon-constrained economy, the coal companies who own the mountaintops might start to see them as better wind farms than coal-power-plant fodder.

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