Stone Mountain ruled out as windfarm site

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Stone Mountain in Mountain City has been taken out of consideration for a Tennessee Valley Authority windfarm and Regenesys power storage facility site.
   "We have determined that Buffalo Mountain is our preferred site," Barbara Martocci of TVA Media Relations said Friday. TVA still must complete an Environmental Assessment before final decision can be made on whether to add 20 megawatts of wind generation to Buffalo Mountain's 2 megawatt windfarm, which now has three wind turbines. TVA began generating electricity from Buffalo Mountain in October 2000. It was the first commercial wind generation facility in the southeastern United States.
   Martocci said TVA determined that because land at Buffalo Mountain, a former strip mine, has already been disturbed, "it would cause less of an environmental impact. It already has the transmission line infrastructure and it has wind turbines on it already," Martocci said. "It will be less costly because you don't have to maintain two sites."
   While TVA could never rule out locating a windfarm in Mountain City, Martocci said, "at this point there are no indications that we would be looking at Stone Mountain again anytime soon."
   Once the environmental assessment is complete, a recommendation will be made to the TVA Board as to the best route to follow. "We're expecting that will be Buffalo Mountain. Then the board will make a decision if they are going to do this project at all," she said.
   "The Regenesys, because it's part of this EA, will go along with the Buffalo Mountain site. I cannot rule out Stone Mountain, but it wouldn't make a lot of sense to do that up there without the wind turbines." TVA has one other Regenesys facility in Columbus, Miss.
   The proposed windfarm is part of TVA's Green Power Switch program which allows residential utility customers to buy blocks of power generated from three renewable resources -- sun, wind and methane gas. One block equals 150 kilowatt hours, or 10 to 15 percent of an average home's monthly electric usage. Customers can buy as many blocks as they want.
   Already, Mountain Electric Cooperative in Mountain City is inviting its customers to make the switch. Elizabethton Electric System's board of directors is scheduled to vote on a recommendation to sign a contract with TVA to market the Green Power Switch Program to its customers. The board meets at 5 p.m. March 26.
   John Moulton, TVA Media Relations director, said Bristol, Johnson City, Erwin and Morristown also are targeted for the Green Power Switch. The program is only offered now in 12 test markets. "We're going to add eight more distributors and kick it up to 20, and then later this year we'll probably add some more, and then next year, more and more and more until we can make it valleywide."
   Although utility customers may opt to participate in the Green Power program, there is no guarantee the power they receive at home comes from renewable energy.
   "What happens is when you agree to support Green Power, you are agreeing to help pay the money to support electricity generated by renewable resources," Martocci said. "Because you pay that money doesn't mean that you get a green electron. There is no way to say that an electron that comes into your home is from a nuclear plant, a coal plant or a solar facility. It's just electrons going onto the grid."
   "So what you are doing by adding your dollars is supporting the idea of using more renewable energy sources than the standard fuels that we use to produce electricity," she said.