Where the Wind Blows Wind Analysis May Lead to New Energy from Former Surface Mines
Stationed on a remote, wind-swept ridge in Southern West Virginia, the large gray capsule looks a bit like something from a 1950s science fiction flick. In reality, it is a state-of-theart Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) unit placed on a former surface mine property by a team of Marshall University researchers who are evaluating the site’s potential as a resource for wind energy. The researchers are conducting wind studies at several locations across West Virginia as part of a project to explore renewable energy potential on land previously used for coal mining. According to George Carico, the environmental manager at Marshall’s Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences (CEGAS), the unit performs wind profiling up to 200 meters above the Earth’s surface, recording wind speed, direction, sheer and veer. The self-contained system uses solar and battery power to operate and provides satellite data transmission and telemetry for quick, 24/7 data retrieval and review.
Two years into the project, Carico says the researchers have collected data at three former surface mine sites in Webster, Grant and Mingo counties and are wrapping up a year-long study at a fourth location along the Raleigh-Fayette county line. “The next step is to begin a series of shorter-term studies in the Raleigh-Fayette county area to correlate our findings with existing datasets and compare them to wind industry requirements,” Carico explains. CEGAS and Marshall’s West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center are partnering with the West Virginia Division of Energy’s Office of Coalfield Community Development for the project. “As researchers, we’re not either for or against the idea of wind energy,” Carico says. “Our role is to do the studies, collect the data and explain the ins and outs to landowners who may be interested in exploring commercial wind development. “We’ve had a lot of interest already from both landowners and wind developers. Some people assume the larger landholding companies with extensive coal backgrounds might not like the idea of this study, but landowners are actually seeing this as perhaps an opportunity to reuse land after it has been mined. In fact, Penn Virginia Resource Partners, which owns land in the area where the SODAR unit is currently located, has been absolutely fantastic to work with.” The wind analysis is just one of several projects the partners are working on to evaluate renewable energy opportunities for surface mined sites. They also have two solar panel projects in the works—including one recently installed at Mount View High School in McDowell County—and several demonstration sites for biomass energy crops. “We are interested in exploring all possibilities for domestic energy production,” Carico says. “We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘Once the coal has been removed, what can be done next with this property?’ It requires a long-term view, but maybe in 10 years or so we’ll see some type of renewable energy resource on some of the land we’re evaluating today.” Funding for the projects is provided by the West Virginia Division of Energy and the Appalachian Regional Commission. Marshall’s Center for Business and Economic Research is assisting with data reporting. Results of the studies are being made available to the public at www.energywv.org. By Ginny Painter Photography by Marshall University