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A Day Out with Zuli

In mid September Zulima Palacio, Video Journalist on Environmental Issues for the Voice of America contacted Judy Rodd of our member group, Friends of Blackwater. She was producing a VOA segment on the contradiction of saving the environment with wind energy while, at the same time, destroying the environment with wind energy. Specifically her subject was wind turbine bat kills. Her request was passed on to Allegheny Highlands Alliance and then on to me. Among the things Zulima (Zuli) wanted to film was dead bats and people who had experienced bats being killed by wind turbines. Those of us who live among the turbines know that this is an impossible request to fill. For my part, I couldnt see the value to us of a TV segment on Allegheny bat kills in Swahili or forty or more other languages that mountain folks dont normally speak. And the timing was bad because the two days Zuli wished to visit coincided with the 2012 West Virginia Wind Forum at Canaan Resort and the tour of the AES wind facility and unrelated battery array. I was wrong. Allegheny Highlands Alliance President, Larry Thomas, and Board member, Mike Morgan, werent as easily discouraged and looked into Zulis work at the Voice of America website. They were impressed enough to continue the conversation and set up a tour schedule. Monday, Zuli would drive out from her office in Washington DC and Judy Rodd and Donna Cook would show her around the publicly accessible portions of Ned Power/Mount Storm wind farm. Zuli had been denied access to film on wind farm property. Zuli was also denied access to film at AES Laurel Mountain even though there was a public tour going on there that day. Read into this what you will. I was not part of Mondays tour, but I know that Zuli got great interviews with Donna and Judy including one at a cave entrance since the subject of the story was bats.
AHA President Larry Thomas begins his day with an interview with video journalist Zulima Palacio of Voice of America.

That evening, Larry Thomas, AHA Executive Director Brad Stephens, my wife, Joan, and I (from Laurel Mountain Preservation Association) met Zuli at Blackwater Lodge at Blackwater Falls State Park, WV for dinner. Our discussion centered around who we are and our connection to each other and industrial wind energy. A recurring question from Zuli was, Why are you against wind energy? This is a good question for all of us to ponder. It is asked in the negative. Against. The implication is that wind energy is something to be for (a positive) or against (a negative). Its almost the same as the question, If not wind, then what? which gives wind energy credibility it hasnt earned. We dont get interviewed often so, Im afraid the why against question catches us off guard as we tend to think of ourselves as positive, environmentally active, generally nonpolitical people. That evening, at dinner, it was clear that Zuli, who has covered environmental issues all over the planet, considered herself an environmental realist too. It was also clear that she did not view wind energy through the same lens as we do. Tuesday morning, bright and early, I found Zuli and Larry at breakfast (and I think at the same table as the evening before) and we began our day. Zuli interviewed Larry on the lawn in early morning light looking out on the West Virginia hills, just beginning to take on their autumn colors. You can see the Mountaineer wind project from the road into the state park. Judy and Donna had taken Zuli to see Mountaineer the day before. I took her there again that morning, because Zuli hadnt been told that Mountaineer is the most important wind energy facility in the turbine vs bat story. As most of you know, Mountaineer was the first windfarm in West Virginia as well as the largest east of the Mississippi at the time, this is where America first realized that thousands of bats could be slaughtered every year by wind energy. There ought to be a plaque. Our re-visit was perfect except for the light being a little bright and my Transitions eyeglass lenses making me look like I was giving an interview in sunglasses, rock-star that I am. We had been having a week of good wind for a change, probably the best in two months, so the ten yearold NEG Micon turbines were roaring. She placed me standing while the camera was set up low to catch the spinning blades as my background. Those who know me, know that Ive shot thousands of frames of stills and hours of video at wind farms all across the United States. Here, Zuli choose the perfect angle showing the dramatic reality of industrial wind turbine noise. This was the first moment that I knew we could trust her to tell the bat story with an open mind.

Matia Vanderbilt at Criterion

Eric Robison at his home near Criterion

NED Powers Mount Storm wind energy facility at left and the Mount Storm power station at the right from Pinnacle Mtn.

We were traveling in two vehicles, I in my pick-up and she in a rental. I was the guide, a role she must have questioned as I piloted us through at least three wrong turns on our way from Mountaineer in West Virginia to Criterion in Maryland. As we were in separate vehicles, there was no chance for conversation. It was not I who suggested the several stops to shoot footage showing the juxtaposition of wind turbines and homes or turbines and farms or turbines and mountains. It was Zulis environmentally sensitive mind, her photographers eye and the visual storytellers need to illustrate and gather evidence that made us stop. And of course we never got to where we were expected on time. On the way to Criterion we ran the ridge along WV Route 90 and then MD Route 60. From many places along the way, even with the leaves still on the trees, we could see Mount Storms 132 wind turbines on our left and Mountaineers 44 turbines on our right. Then we passed the Roth Rock wind project and arrived at the Criterion project and Save Western Maryland members, Eric Robison and Matia Vanderbilt. Eric is an outstanding speaker and gave his interview sitting in the front yard of his home whose property value plummeted when his new Criterion neighbors moved in. His is a story of industrial wind shortcuts, misdeeds and attempts at intimidation which, though enlightening, is too long and scary to tell here. Matia gave her interview from the roads edge practically at the base of a very noisy, fire breathing Clipper wind turbine. With new directions from Eric, who knows the area better than Google, we continued on, across the Potomac, back into Mineral County, WV. Here we met Frank OHara from Allegheny Front Alliance at the scenic rest area off US Route 50 and WV Route 42 in a place called Skyline. There is a beautiful vista here (West Virginia at its best) of currently turbine-free New Creek Mountain and the well known saddle near the Nancy Hanks (Abe Lincolns mom) birthplace. I mentioned to Zuli that even this idyllic view has been approved by the WV Public Service Commission for a string of wind turbines. She grabbed her camera and filmed even though we were well beyond the subject of bats. Frank, who always has the power to amaze, whipped out several very large maps which he spread out on the hood of Zulis car.
Frank OHara tells of the WV PSC-approved AES New Creek wind plant to be erected on the mountain in the distance.

Note Franks large map lower right.

Frank and Zuli look west toward Mountaineer.

Top photo: The Pinnacle overlook.

Bottom photo: The Pinnacle wind turbines as seen from the Pinnacle overlook.

She recorded his voice as she filmed his hand pointing out where we were and the proximity to all the various wind farms that run end to end and line parallel ridges. He pointed out the danger, not only to bats, but to long distance migrators, the birds. Running late as usual, we piled in my truck and traveled the short distance to a wildlife management area close to the southern end of the 23-turbine Pinnacle project. The location is appropriately called Pinnacle and this spot, accessible by four wheel drive, affords a sweeping view that takes in parts of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. The Pinnacle lookout also provides a view of the Mount Storm, Mountaineer, Roth Rock, Criterion wind energy projects as well as the new Pennsylvania project near Frostburg, MD and several others near Meyersdale, PA. Short of renting a plane, this is the best view of the bad situation migrating birds find themselves in as they attempt to navigate from north to south and return. Something akin to placing a blockade across the various ridges - a blockade of spinning blades. We spent a long time at the Pinnacle lookout, but then pressed on to our final interview with Richard Brathwaite, a long time resident of the area who has seen his property value drop and who, now in retirement, is disturbed by the unexpectedly loud noises made by the brand new Mitsubishi wind turbines. This is something that can only be expected to worsen over time as the turbines age. Richard was interviewed in his front yard with a view of several slowly spinning turbines in the background. Leaving the area we made another stop to photograph turbines in close proximity to residential homes.

In the shadow of the Pinnacle project.

With her battery running low, Zuli shoots her final interview with Richard Brathwaite.

Zuli and I covered well over one hundred miles that day, most of it in two vehicles. Early on there was a feeling that she was reluctant to visit locations not directly related to the turbine/bat issue. Somewhere this day all that changed. How did we do it? Most of the day we were in separate cars communicating only when I got us lost. While the AHA members she met were honest and forthright in our views of wind energy in the Allegheny Highlands I dont believe anything we said accounts for Zulis many stops to document the situation. If Zuli gained a new appreciation for why we are against wind energy, it was the views she saw through her lens and from her car windshield. In other words, it was the mountains themselves who told our story. John Terry Education Chairman Allegheny Highlands Alliance

If you havent participated in AHAs PTC post card campaign, now through November 2012, please contact an AHA member or me and Ill see that you get some cards. This is the most important thing you can do regarding wind energy this year.