Coal has been the force driving West Virginia’s economy for generations. But mining for coal has depleted nonrenewable energy sources that compromise the necessities of future generations. Practices such as strip mining and mountain top removal has created an environmental imbalance that lead to deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats for wildlife. Strip and surface mining practices increase erosion which allows sedimentation and contaminates to flow into runoff that filters into water sources. And at times this sedimentation is contaminated The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has enforced stricter guidelines on regulating permits. And the submission of Environmental Impact Statements also helps curb land degradation while allowing companies follow policy in a procedural manner. But finding a renewable sustainable energy source in an area that can harvest natural energy is seemingly overshadowed due the states dependency on coal.
The American Coal Foundation, which is an organization that promotes education and awareness on coal-related issues, states that 98.4 percent of the electricity in West Virginia is fueled from coal and that 56 percent of the United States use coal-fueled electricity. The strain the coal industry has put on the environment has produced a need to establish an alternative renewable energy source that is sustainable.
West Virginia is home to one wind farm with two more in the works. Mount Storm is a fully functional wind farm which sits 120 miles west of Washington, D.C. in Grant County, West Virginia. The Beech Ridge Farm sits in Greenbrier County, West Virginia while the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center is located in Tucker County West Virginia. Construction on the Beech Ridge wind farm was actually halted when conservationists discovered that the wind turbines where killing an endangered bat species when in operation. Another opposition that wind farm implementation faced came from those living close to the wind farms. Many argued that the turbines obstruct the areas natural view shed and that the turbines create a constant humming sound when their running. Another argument was that blades on the turbine created a strobe light effect when the sun hits the turbines causing headaches and even nausea to those who are affected.
But these obstacles that surround wind energy implementation in West Virginia can be avoided if state officials learn from those who already incorporate wind energy into their economy. In 1980, universities in the state of Iowa formed an alliance with state and local governments, community colleges, Regents Universities, the private sector, and the federal government to create the Iowa Alliance of Wind Innovation and Novel Development. It was designed to serve as a catalyst for the growth of wind energy, and to support and to facilitate the research and training needs of wind energy companies. These researches in Iowa have thrived on producing and employing wind energy by relying heavily on meteorology.
Iowans have also developed a “network of networks” called The Iowa Environmental Mesonet. The “IEM” gathers, compares, disseminates and archives over 300,000 meteorological observations per day from approximately 450 stations across Iowa. The merging of different networks provides data at high space and time resolution, with observations being available from some networks as often as every minute. These observations allow researchers to know when and where turbines should operate. If researchers in West Virginia can learn the strategies that IEM uses, meteorology can be used as a primary source for detecting wind energy, allowing a new economy to continue to grow and evolve in a state in need of an economic boost.