Mountain Storm, West Virginia – a tale of two energies

September 10, 2009

turbine mt stormOver Labor Day weekend I, like many, decided to flee the city to enjoy my peace in the woods. A short drive from Washington, DC to Mountain Storm, West Virginia, I found a cabin at a lovely little campsite at Abram’s Creek (the site is personally recommended: sustainable, eco-friendly and amazing staff). I went hiking, built fires, whittled sticks, went swimming, enjoyed the sounds of nature, watched the night sky and generally speaking charged my battery with the beauty and bounty of nature. But the story that I bring home with me has to do with power – renewable vs. conventional and old vs. new. Mountain Storm, West Virginia is home to Dominion Power’s largest coal fired power plant. The first units of this 1,600 megawatt power plant were built in 1965 and are currently responsible for about 12.5 million tons of CO2; 3,139 tons of smog forming sulfur dioxides; 22,464 tons of nitrous oxides; and over 340 lbs of mercury every year. This power plant is a behemoth both in size and in emissions that looms large over this area of West Virginia. The dual billowing smokestacks of the plant represent a few jobs for local workers, but is a living sign of environmental destruction as well. Directly adjacent to the coal fired power plant is a sight to behold for clean energy advocates such as myself – wind turbines as far as the eye can see. The NedPower Mountain Storm wind energy project has erected 132 two megawatt wind turbines that generate 264 megawatts of clean energy. I have never seen this many turbines before in my life, and watching them spin and breathe new life into our energy grid gave me so much hope for a clean energy future. These turbines make sense in a place like Mountain Storm. There is land available on the cheap (sometimes ‘reclaimed land’ which has been used for surface, or mountain top removal mining), workers that are experienced in industrial construction, ideal conditions for generating wind power, and existing transmissions lines from the coal power plant to get the energy to the power hungry cities of the east coast. Located at the nexus of where the coal plant and the turbines meet is the Mountain Storm Lake – a dammed river that Dominion Power uses to cool the coal generators. This Lake is a center for recreation and is constantly at bath temperature due to the coal plant.

mt storm coal

Sitting by this unnaturally warm Lake (which is apparently fine to swim in – I wonder about regular exposure to things like mercury that may be falling from the smoke stacks or leeching from the GIANT piles of coal that were less than 1,000 feet away) one cannot help but think of the past and the future. Coal and renewable energy. Poverty and jobs. Destruction and health. What relics of our past do we want to embrace and which ones do we want to see slowly fade away?

The balance exists now, and places like Mountain Storm are living examples of how one location can embody nearly every facet of energy debates that are being had in Washington now. Personally, I want to see more turbines, and less coal. There are more jobs to be had in wind these days than in coal, and that is news that I think we can all embrace.