SCC Approves Highland Wind Farms

Highland New Wind Development can proceed with its $60 million, mountaintop wind farm, ruled the State Corporation Commission, on the condition that it develop a “post-construction bat and bird mitigation plan.”

The project calls for building 19 windmills reaching 400 feet tall in Highland County — enough to power 20,000 homes. The whirring blades are expected to be deterimental to flying wildlife, however. The SCC order will require Highland New Wind to spend roughly $2 million over 20 years on monitoring, roughly $50,000 a year on measures to minimize the impact on wildlife, and fines of up to $1,500 for the death of rare or endangered birds.

Bacon’s Bottom Line: If we want more renewable energy, we can’t let NIMBYs kill every project that threatens their aesthetic sensibilities. If the windmills can been seen in the far distance from Rt. 250 in the hamlet of Monterey, well, I’m sorry. But wildlife protection is another matter entirely. The SCC has struck a reasonable balance.

Read more details at the Times-Dispatch and Roanoke Times.

(Photo credit of West Virginia windmills: NPR.)

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29 responses to “SCC Approves Highland Wind Farms”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    How about a net like they use to catch field goals?

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    we have thousands of miles of power line rights of way, interstate medians and a coastline.

    No not all are usable but many would be for both wind and solar.

    solar panels over median strips would save grass cutting AND save critters because critters want habitat and the interstate medians are deadly habitats for critters.

    solar panels over top of buildings and parking lots would very likely have almost immediate reductions in harmful storm water runoff.

    I’m not thrilled with the idea of wind turbines on the mountain tops but folks.. how thrilled are we with building even more coal-powered plants that will spew even more nitrogen and mercury into our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

    We’re paying billions of dollars to clean up the Bay while on the other hand.. we lack the intestinal fortitude to choose technologies that won’t pollute the bay.

    Why not compare the costs of cleaning up the pollution with the cost of Green Power.

    What if… the cost of coal-powered electricity INCLUDED the cost of cleaning up the Bay in the bill?

    Would we then be looking more favorably at power technologies that do not impose clean-up costs?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “solar panels over median strips would save grass cutting “

    Now there’s a great idea. We can’t even maintain the guardrails and jersey barricades. First time a truck crosses the median it will take out a half million in solar panels so we can save on grass cutting. I think the medians should be planted with tangly vines or thick bushes. The don’t need to be mowed and they make great energy absorbers.

    You think rain doesn’t run off of solar panels? How does putting solar on the roof prevent runoff? How much does it increase the cost of roof repairs, when needed?

    “Why not compare the costs of cleaning up the pollution with the cost of Green Power.”

    I agree, but let’s not kid ourselves, and let’s not stack the deck. The comparison needs to be balanced.

    “Would we then be looking more favorably at power technologies that do not impose clean-up costs?”

    You assume that those technologies don’t have clean up costs, when actually they probably will. Not to mention as yet unforseen difficulties and expenses. For example, when we have all this distributed technology, we will have a lot of people traveling around to deliver and take care of it.

    I think we will be looking at technologies other than coal, but I don’t think we should charge mindlessly into som grandiose plan, thinking it will be all profit and buttercups.


  4. Cleaning up the bay is a location – specific cost and should be paid for by the users of the bay. Those with real estate on and around the bay should pay a sur-charge to the real estate taxes in order to generate money to help clean up the bay. In addition, people who own boats on the bay, people who have fishing licenses for the bay and companies that operate ships on the bay should all pay more.

    All of this money should go into a lockbox that is constitutionally guaranteed to be spent on bay clean up.

    This blog is full of people who claim that everything that can be “user pays” should be “user pays”. However, the hollowness of their pseudo-logic is quickly apparent. They say that education is the only exception to the “users should pay for what they use philosophy”. However, those same people then believe that tax rebates should be given for maintaining a “treeline” in central Virginia. They believe that people should pay more for electricity because the new coal fired generating plant has to use expensive coal mined in Virginia versus cheaper coal mined elsewhere. These people want the Federal Government to spend $15M for the Journey Through a Hollowed Out Economy. They want everybody to pay for cleaning up the bal although there are many residents of western Virginia who will never see the bay in their lives.

    So, why does “user pays” make such sense for transportation and not for all these other things?

    Because transportation is the one area where Northern Virginia and, to a lesser extent, Tidewater need more money. Since the true goal of the transportation “user pays” crowd is to extend the theft of NoVA and, to a lesser extent, Tidewater money to prop up the economic failure of RoVA, it is the one area that gets any focus from the “user pays” crowd.

    Some will continue their illogic by trying to put pollution into the same category as education and preservation. They will say that everybody should pay.

    The Republicans in Virginia continue to tell fairy tales about their love of low taxes, small government, fairness and self-sufficiency. Meanwhile they continue to raise taxes (through tolls, abusive driver fees, etc), grow government, push unfair legislation and enact permanent locality-based welfare. The Democrats, on the other hand, say they want to achieve more social equality, stop the growing income disparity, clean up the environment (with tax money), etc.

    Both are really trying to do the same thing.

    Only the Democrats are honest about their goals and objectives while the pseudo-conservative Republicans are lying through their teeth.

    Republicans in Virginia are very much on the endangered species list. Soon, they will be extinct.

    However, they are not extinct yet. People like Sen. Cuccinelli are on the right track. Republicans should be pushing the message of clear, transparent and open government. They should be the first in line to honestly explain what should be “user pays”, what should be “we all pay” and why they see it that way. For example, if you think transportation should be “user pays” then you must go beyond congestion tolls. Congestion tolls are “some users pay while other users don’t”. In other words, it is a tax on people who drive on congested roads. Meanwhile, someone driving on state built an maintained roads that are not congested does not pay this tax. This is not “user pays” this is “tax some people”. Adding a mileage tax is a good counter-measure that might (repeat might) make this a “user pays” scheme. It would be a “user pays” scheme if the cost / unit of transportation was accurately calculated and charged back to the users of that transportation. For example:

    1. A one mile stretch of rural road is worth $1,000,000 and costs $100,000 per year to maintain. Each year 10,000 vehicles use that mile of road.

    2. A one mile of urban road is worth $10,000,000 and costs $200,000 per year to maintain. Each year, 100,000 vehicles use that stretch of road.

    Both roads have a useful life of 10 years.

    What should be the cost per mile for the people using those roads?

    1. Rural road = $1,000,000 undepreciated value / 10 year useful life = $100,000 per year in depreciation + $100,000 per year in maintenance = $200,000 per year in cost. $200,000 cost / 10,000 vehicle miles = $20 / mile driven.

    2. Urban road – $10,000,000 undepreciated value / 10 year useful life = $1,000,000 per year in depreciation + $200,000 in maintenance per year = $1,200,000 in total cost per year. $1,200,000 / 100,000 vehicle miles driven = $12 / mile driven.

    I know the numbers are hypothetical but that’s a “user pays” calculation – right?

    I mean “all users pay” – right?

    Or, is it just congestion tolls in NoVA and Tidewater?

  5. Michael Ryan Avatar
    Michael Ryan

    I’m assuming you’re kidding? The mesh you’d need to stop bird strikes would be <1 inch, and these windmills are 400 feet tall. Each.

    How would rooftop solar mitigate storm water runoff? The rain has to go somewhere.

    Putting solar panels in the medians sounds good, but having seen how many cars run off in the medians in a rain or snow storm, you’d be repairing crushed panels so often I hardly think it would be economical.

    Also, I don’t think it’ll stop grass growing or the wildlife living there, unless you plan on putting up a flat roof of panels covering every square inch. The inclined panels let light to the ground part of the day. They don’t ‘track’ the sun.

    WRT, nitrogen pollution, I thought most of that came from fertilizer and fecal runoff. Car tailpipes too. Electric plants, not so much.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Groveton, You ask, “Is it just congestion tolls in Northern Virginia and Tidewater?”

    No, it’s congestion tolls wherever there’s congestion.

    Congestion tolls may be appropriate for sections of I-81 in western Virginia. And the way the Richmond region is replicating NoVa-style sprawl development patterns, it may not be long before we need them in my neck of the woods, too. You apply the tolls wherever you need to ration scarce roadway capacity.

    I have to say, you’ve added an interesting wrinkle to the idea of a Vehicle Miles Driven tax. Not only should we adjust for the size, weight and pollution emissions of the automobile, but we should adjust for the cost of maintaining the specific roads that people drive on. In the abstract, that sounds like a pretty good idea to me. As you suggest, though, someone has to develop a defensible methodology for calculating those costs.

  7. Anonymous Avatar


    Excellent post as usual

    Two quick things

    As Jim Bacon has said for quite some time. The parties in the longrun mean nothing. Forgive the generalizations. This is really between NoVa and RoVa. Which is really Dems vs Repub. With the Democrats in control of the senate it will be interesting to see if policy will be changed to benefit NoVa.

    2. My free market move mentality. If NoVa is really so bad people would be fleeing and migrating to RoVa. This is occuring among some people but there are also people continually flocking to NoVa. People come to NoVa for schools and jobs. Logically as people retire I would think people would decide to move but that goes against the community roots that many people have put down.


  8. Anonymous Avatar

    “However, the hollowness of their pseudo-logic is quickly apparent. “

    Groveton is correct, and the pseudo logic is even more bizarre when more user fees is proposed as a way to support “no new taxes.”

    Which is why I have suggested that the idea should be that all beneficiaries, not just the direct users, should pay. We all like crabs, and oysters, right? So we should be willing to pay to ensure they are available. such a policy enlarges the boundaries and reduces the local effects.

    But this idea quickly morphs into your suggestion that some things are “users pay” and some things are “all pay”. And this comes down to who owns what, who uses what, and what things are so critical that we can’t do without or people will die.

    Groveton’s Analysis of rural road use, if not exact is probably in the right direction. Why should we pay more for worse service, through congestion charges? Better we should charge more for uncnogested service, which is what EMR has suggested in Charging Full Locational costs.

    But, I believe that the purpose of EMR’s argument is not to charge full price, but to provide more subsidies to urban dwellers and more disincentives to rural dwellers.

    So we have this conundrum where rural dwellers depend on income that is generated in the cities, and are therefore beneficiaries of urban life. Meanwhile, Urban dwellers are dependent on, and beneficiaries of, the many products that rural spaces provide, garbage disposal, among others.

    Even if we could ever figure out what all the exact costs are, the transaction costs would kill us. We already know that many of the jobs created by environmental initiatives turn out to be lawyers and accountants. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have an accurate accounting: it just means that the purpose is not to shift costs or collect revenue, but to determine policies that are fair without undue transaction costs.

    The constant battle to ensure that only somebody else pays is simply selfishness that costs us all more than necessary. It is the tragedy of the commons, in reverse.

    What we should be doing is searching for the “best” solution in a way that improves the outcome for all, including those who are the “bad guys” under a user pays ethic.

    And we should be conducting that serach irrespective of Donkey or Elephant labels, with honest discourse, instead of spin intended to gain an advantage.

    There is nothing wrong with profits, but the only real profits come when everybody gains. Otherwise, it is just stealing.


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    What makes you think they need to be as small as an inch? What are we protecting, mosquitos? Why does the whole tower need to be guarded, instead of just the blades?

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Nitrogen oxides form as part of any high temperature combustion, more so if it occurs at high pressure, as in internal combustion engines.

    In the case of coal, nitrogen is released that was formerly bound up (sequestered) in the coal, and also as a byproduct of combustion of air. I think some coal burners also operate at elevated pressures.

    The nitrogen oxides are then converted through various atmospheric process into nitrates, which promote growth. Think of petroleum products as liquified coal, which is probably wher we will be getting petroleum products, eventually. They are both fossil fuels, and both contribute to nitrates.

    As you say, the actual ratios of what contributes to what is stll debateable.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    “…we should adjust for the cost of maintaining the specific roads that people drive on…..though, someone has to develop a defensible methodology for calculating those costs.”

    Well, I’d suggest this is a two sided coin. Just as we penalize people for driving on congested roads, we should attempt to get more use (ROI) out of our underused roads by incentivizing businesses and individuals that help us do so.

    Perhaps, instead of dedicating money collected from tolls to mass transit, so that we can spend two hours a day on the train, as they do in Tokyo, we should consider using part of it for economic development where roads are over-provided.


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    “Well, I’d suggest this is a two sided coin. Just as we penalize people for driving on congested roads, we should attempt to get more use (ROI) out of our underused roads by incentivizing businesses and individuals that help us do so.”

    Humm whats that thing called…. oh yeah MORE PLACES ๐Ÿ™‚


  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: polluted runoff

    folks.. think about this.

    what is polluted runoff from an impervious surface?

    it’s not the rain.

    The rain becomes the transport mechanism for what is on that parking lot.

    Think of a parking garage.

    How much of the oil/antifreeze/transmission fluid/pet feces in a parking garage “runs off”?

    the rain, by itself, is clean enough to drink.. and some people actually capture it in cisterns.

    putting rain directly into the receiving streams is far better than dumping rain on a parking lot to then drain off..

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: green facilities in the median

    RH.. how do you deal with the support legs for overpasses?

    you “armor” the base of the towers with water barrels and safer walls… the kind that Nascar uses and you pay for them from a portion of the profits from the electricity generated.

    THINK man! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think we’re hearing the politics of “no” .. don’t change the status quo again.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “You assume that those technologies don’t have clean up costs”

    no.. I don’t.. but what would they be?

    Now if you’re talking about the costs and impacts of manufacturing the widgets themselves why didn’t you ask the same question with regard to coal plants?

    apples to apples guy…

    1. cost of building widgets

    2. cost of cleanup from operating widgets

    tell me again.. on an apple to apple basis what the cleanup costs of wind and solar are COMPARED to coal.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: nitrogen pollution

    fully 1/3 of nitrogen comes from coal plants and automobiles – regardless of their location in terms of urban/rural. Another major source of pollution is urban runoff.

    40% (in theory) comes from agriculture (which is done to feed US). we treat agricultural runoff like it is the farmers problem.

    I can’t see how location variable costs apply here unless the answer is to live on a farm and raise our own food and use wind/hydro/solar for power.

    I’m amazed at the intense activity of the responses on this thread but that is a good thing because it means folks do care.

    but if we care about the issue, we need to understand what the impacts are due to our own personal choices.

    When you turn on your light switch, you are choosing to put mercury and nitrogen oxides in the air just as surely as if you burned coal in your own home and it went up the chimney. It’s not the evil power company nor incompetent government. It is YOU!

    When you drive your auto, it’s the same deal. Park you running car in a closed garage and see just how much pollution comes from that baby if you really need convincing.

    When you park on an impervious surface.. same deal. That parking spot was built for you. They could have used previous surfaces but then that would make your milk and aspirin cost 2cents more.

    I’m not advocating that we all go back to live like savages. We want and need our modern lives but there ARE choices to be made and we’ve made ones to save money – at the expense to the environment.

    The environment actually subsidizes our lifestyles.

    Many in this blog advocate conservative government, personal responsibility, no subsidies and user pays.

    I’d only point out.. that when folks argue about how much it will cost to clean up the Bay and how it should be paid for – that you and I are the cause of it – by our own choices – to save money.

    The government did not pollute the Bay. We did.

    Each one of us, if we really want to, can see exactly how much nitrogen and mercury that we CHOOSE to put into the bay by looking at how much we drive and how much coal-powered electricity we use.

    There are only a very few of us that disconnect from the Grid, work and live close enough to work to walk/bike and in general have a very small polluting footprint.

    The rest of us bear some personal responsibility – which is – a conservative ethic. no?

    So .. no .. it’s not up to the government to clean up the bay.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    “what is polluted runoff from an impervious surface?

    it’s not the rain.”

    Actually, the rain is polluted. It contains sufuric acid, nitrates, and other substances. It gets more polluted running along either the ground or imprevious surfaces.

    The main reason that impervious surfaces are bad for the Bay is that they increase the rate of runoff, and the velocity in the streams, which then increased erosion and turbidity. This situation is controlled by law for new developments, and old developments may eventually be faced with requirements to retrofit.

    “putting rain directly into the receiving streams is far better than dumping rain on a parking lot to then drain off..”

    If you actually put ALL the rain into the receiving streams, you would have instant runoff, and maximum stream flow, soo this isn’t true.

    It is probably better to have it fall on land that is clean and then gradually seep to the bay, but there is a lot of land that is as bad or worse than your average parking lot.

    How are you going to accomplish the idea of having rain fall in only the best places?

    We could require cars that don’t leak. And make the parking lots better places. We could have carbon filters on drainage catchments, as many people have on their cisterns.

    We could do without cars and parking lots. And cattle and chicken farms. And stop using fertilizer.

    Considering all the ramifications, and what’s actually possible, I can’t agree that putting rain directly into the receiving streams is far better than dumping rain on a parking lot to then drain off.

    With respect to widgets vs coal plants, you are correct: you have to do full life cycle cost analysis, on the same basis (including the same cost assumptions for unpriced externalities, discount rate, maintenace, and disposal), in order to compare the two alternatives. That’s why I have a problem with far better .

    I actually have no doubt that you are correct, (in both cases) but I suggest that the degree of benefits may turn out to be far less, and farther in the future, than some people think.

    IF that turns out to be the case, then by overselling what seems to be a good idea, we could do far more harm than good. Husbanding our resources is so important that we cannot afford to waste more of some in order to save a little of others.

    Even worse, if it turns out that we use such overselling for political or financial gain for some at the expense of others, then we have damaged a lot more than resources: we have damaged credibility.

    At one time we spent millions constructing low cost housing projects, because we though we could save on big social costs. Hardly anyone believes that today.


    I think ther are ways to use rooftops medians, etc. It isn’t going to be easy or cheap.

  18. NMM:

    It really is NoVA vs. RoVa in the long term. Sometimes I wonder where Tidewater fits in that equation.

    In the short to mid term I see NoVA going almost totally Democratic while RoVA stays primarily Republican. This will set up a battle in the state house as NoVA (with their largely Deomocratic representatives) goes to war with RoVA (with their largely Republican representatives). Of course, there will always be places like Charlottesville that elect more liberal representatives while being in Central Virginia. My support of Democrats at the state level is much more of an attempt to get more effective power for NoVA than from any love of the Democratic Party or its ideals.

    Your “people would be moving” argument is interesting. And it’s hard to argue that NoVA keeps growing. BUt I wonder how people felt in St Louis and Buffalo in 1900. Both of those cities had more people living there in 1900 than live there today. I can imagine a “perfect storm” for NoVA. Defense spending drops as a Democrat is elected president in 2008. The federal government decides to geographically diversity its workforce as a precaution against an attack using a weapon of mass destruction (dirty bomb, let’s say). The transient community in NoVA (very large) moves out. The real estate prices further collapse. RoVA, of course, remains the economic basket case it has always been. Now NoVA has too little money to keep funding RoVA and maintain the quality of the school system. More people move out.

    Personally, I am looking at property in South Carolina now that the prices are so low. I hope to buy a second home in February or March. That will be my “escape hatch” if (when?) NoVA melts down. I’ve also written my present home’s value down to 1/3 of its tax assessed value in my retirement planning. I expect to lose money on that house. In 2009 my company’s lease in Reston expires. Not sure what to do about that – it won’t be my decision alone. However, given the present mess in Virginia, we’ll have to look hard at returning to DC or going to Maryland. Any decision will bind us for another 10 years or so. We have to think about how things will look in 2019. We employ thousands of people in NoVA.

    I hate to be in a position of running away but I am begining to see the impossibility of defeating the thieves in Richmond. Maybe Columbia or Annapolis will be better.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “If you actually put ALL the rain into the receiving streams, you would have instant runoff, and maximum stream flow, soo this isn’t true.”

    no more instant than it is now!

    do you think the amount of flow from an impervious parking lot is LESS than from a similarly impervious solar panel?

    the rain goes is absorbed by ground water and/or surface flow into LID facilities.

    it’s got a name – it’s called pre-development hydrograph (you can GOOGLE it).

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: subsidies vs user pays

    How do kids “pay”.

    Let’s play… how does an orpahn pay for his education?

    In the really good really old days, an orphan became an indentured servant. right?

    And a kid with poor and/or irresponsible parents became an indentured servant also. right?

    and kids with health problems.. they’re subsidized also.. right?

    ditto for you and your family and property if there is no police around and you have to hire your own 24/7 security. So a police force is subsidized right?

    Ditto for stone cold killers… if you want them locked up – you pay for it or else we call it a subsidy. right?

    so if you believe this then you get high marks for consistency or your principles.

    But if you don’t. Then let’s hear concise and clear CRITERIA of the difference between a subsidy and “user pays”.

    If you don’t have a consistent criteria then what you have is your own subjective case-by-case rationales. right?

    and the guy next to you.. ditto except some of his case-by-case would agree and some would not.

    and then the guy next to him.. same deal…

    so.. easy one… are schools subsidized?

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    “It really is NoVA vs. RoVa in the long term. Sometimes I wonder where Tidewater fits in that equation.”

    Tidwater is fascinating because I think that is the real swing area

    There was a much larger backlash against the regional transportation plan down there

    At the same time the Ds really own their majority to the 2 senate and 2 house seats they picked up there

    It will be interesting to see if these D legislators play along with the rest of the NoVa folks (plus Cville) to change some of the funding formulas away from RoVa.


    A fun exercise would be to take the commute length (in miles) of each district. My hunch is the higher the total commute length the more likely a Republican legislator and a vote against the gas tax.

    Its a well known dirty secret that after the 2007 elections the Democratic represented areas of NoVa get a better bang for their buck under the gas tax than using additional general fund revenues.

    It will be interesting to see how this shakes out with the gas tax bills in Richmond.


  22. On the runoff matter – isn’t it kind of straight forward?

    1. Forests absorb more rain water than driveways or roofs.

    2. When you convert a forest into houses less rain is absorbed.

    3. The rain slides along the ground until it finds (or creates) a stream.

    4. A hydrograph measures the flow of water in a creek, stream river, etc.

    5. So, a pre-development hydrograph would show less water flow in creeks, streams, etc than a post-development hydrograph.

    In other words, development increases run-off.

    Who cares?

    Well, the fish care – among others.

    Extra water flow desalinates salt water bodies (like a bay), it adds volume to rivers which undercuts river banks and (probably worst of all) washes all kinds of unsavory stuff into streams, rivers, bays, etc.

    But development creates run off. I guess more functional settlement patterns would be a big help but that’s a way off.

    One thing that would help would be for counties like Fairfax to take the run off issue more seriously. I’ll give you an anecdote. My neighbor in Great Falls owns 6 acres of land. His house, yard, driveways, etc. take up about 2 acres leaving him with 4 acres. Recently, he decided that he liked horses and is building a barn, a walking circle and some other stuff. He must have cleared another 2.5 acres. He filed the grading plan with Fairfax County – which approved the plan without blinking an eye.

    I am sure that a pre-barn hydrograph would show less water flowing the creek behind his property than a post-barn hydrograph.

    Should Fairfax County have denied his application to clear 2+ acres of woods for his pet horses?

  23. User pays = usage based pricing times actual usage.

    Subsidy = payment for a hoped for outcome not based on actual usage.

    Putting money in the toll both on the Dulles Toll Rd used to be user pays not a subsidy. Then the road was paid for and the toll was continued as a subsidy (for metro).

    Schools are a subsidy since people without children still have to pay taxes for education. So do people born rich who never need to work or hire anybody. And before there was a public education system everybody did not grow up to be criminals. That’s just ridiculous. The “they will all become criminals unless we pour money into an ineffective and antiquated education system argument” does not hold water. We should subsidize education because an educated labor force is critical to preserving our standard of living.

    But why is this a state problem? As opposed to a national problem or a local problem?

    The state is the worst configured entity to run the education system.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I didn’t say they grow up to be criminals.

    If I implied that then it was wrong.

    uneducated kids grow up to be unemployed and uneducated adults.

    In times of old, they’d survive whatever way they could.

    In modern times.. we pay for their housing, health care, etc.

    What was/is the purpose of public education?

    those buddies of poor circumstances that you know.. would they have become doctors without a “subsidized” education?

    so all the industrialized countries in the world – subsidize education – right?

    so name a country that does not have subsidized education that has a better economy…and a better standard of living.

    Is there a ROI correlation?

  25. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: runoff

    right. Fixing runoff does not mean we have to revert to primitive living conditions at all.

    But it does mean that we have to be smarter about how we do development and yes.. we need to admit that cleaning up after the fact may be harder and more expensive that doing it “right” in the first place.

    the pre-development hydrograph is a graph that shows the amount of runoff on a pervious (woodland/pasture) surface per a particular rain event (number of inches).

    Even pure heavy forest will not prevent a 100 year flood and we know that by the very definition of a 100 year flood.

    The problem is that with forest, you get infrequent floods and the water quality is not bad.. just some extra silt..

    With impervious surfaces, you get a double whammy…

    First you get more frequent and higher flooding and bank scouring – at 10 times the rate so that the banks don’t recover with vegetation

    then the second whammy is the toxics and fertilizer and other contaminates that are flushed into the streams.. and these spikes severely damage animal and plant life…

    someone else said that rain has nitrogen in it.

    not generally true.

    Nitrogen is a particulate and it falls back to earth and deposits on land.,

    When it rains.. the nitrogen in the forest soaks into the ground but the nitrogen on impervious surfaces gets flushed.

    When the Cheapeake Bay Folks urge people to get their legislators to vote more money for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.. where does that money get spent?

    There’s not some giant filter at the mouth of each river…

    they’re spending that money how?

  26. I am very much an advocate of a subsidized education system. I am very much the beneficiary of a subsidized education system. If you look at the taxes I have pay (and continue to pay) I have paid back my subsidy hundreds or thousands of times. I am happy to subsidize the education of Fairfax County children – of all income levels. I wonder though why you think I should be willing to subsidize the education system of SW Virginia but not Washington, DC. My personal “ROI” for spending my education subsidy money is a lot higher in DC or Prince George’s County, MD than a rural community in SW Va.

    I also think the Virginia educational funding approach subsidizes artificially low property tax rates as well as education. In addition, bad school systems seem to stay bad. If every school system in Virginia got the results that the Fairfax County or Arlington County school systems get – I’d be thrilled. At least the money I spend subsidizing people who don’t live in my community and never will would be doing something.

    I have no idea what the Chesapeake Bay folks spend their money on.

    I have no idea why RoVA can’t run decent school systems.

    But I know why the people of many RoVA counties push down their real estate tax rates despite having poor schools – because they know the state legislature will keep taking my money to pay for their schools (or, more correctly, their artificially low taxes).

    If you want less runoff then stop letting developers knock down all the trees every time they build a house. NoVA is ridiculous that way. The rat developers find it cheaper to build homes after knocking down every tree. So they bulldoze whole forests and build houses. Then they replant trees that look like they were the Christmas tree on the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It looks terrible and is bad for the environment too. But it’s convienient for developers so that’s what gets approved.

    I built a house a while back (for me). It cost extra to keep the trees and build thehe house between the trees. I have to spend extra to keep the grass alive under the trees. But you know what? I like my trees. And it would be a while before I had 75 – 100 foot trees if I planted leafy sticks like the NoVA developers do. The fact that it’s better for the Bay is an unintended added bonus.

  27. Oh Larry ….

    Is this one of the residences from Westmoreland County whose owners pay .44% real estate taxes and whose children’s education I should be subsidizing?

    This is, in part, what Fairfax County residents are subsidizing?

    How about a special Westmoreland County waterfront property tax to pay to improve their school system? Like maybe $100 per foot of waterfront per year?

  28. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, I think your figures are wrong. You are correct that one third comes from coal plants and internal combustion (principally diesel engines, because of their high compression).

    Two thirds comes from agriculture. Including lawns and gardens.

    The one third that comes from the air is deposited on land, and then washed off the land in runoff.

    If you are counting runoff and the part that comes from the air separately, then you are mostly double counting.

    Nitrogen is a particulate and it falls back to earth and deposits on land. Yes, and the way it falls back is in rainfall. ( N2, Nitrogen is a gas. NO, NO2, and NO3 are also gases, but they form particulates when they come in contact with other airborne chemicals, like hydrocarbons.) NO and NO2 are eventually coverted to NO3 in the atmosphere. Sometimes it combines with ammonia to make ammonium nitrate.

    “In most cases of excess nitrate concentrations, the principle pathway of entering aquatic systems is through surface runoff from agricultural or landscaped areas which have received excess nitrate fertilizer. These levels of nitrate can also lead to algae blooms, and when nutrients become limiting (such as potassium, phosphate or nitrate) then eutrophication can occur.” Wikipedia

    It is often difficult to pinpoint sources of nitrates because there are so many possibilities. Sources of nitrogen and nitrates may include runoff or seepage from fertilized agricultural lands, municipal and industrial waste water, refuse dumps, animal feedlots, septic tanks and private sewage disposal systems, urban drainage and decaying plant debris. Geologic formations and direction of ground water flow also may influence nitrate concentration.

    (Some of) the nitrogen in the forest soaks into the ground, some is used by trees and other plants. The forest is also producing nitrogen, and whatever is excess soaks into the ground and groundwater or runs off. Septic systems also create Nitrates that leach into the groundwater and all of this eventually finds its way to lakes and streams. You have not eliminated it just because it fell on the forest. Excess nitrogen in the forest will upset the balance there and cause invasive species to florish.

    “But the nitrogen on impervious surfaces gets flushed.” That much is true. But new development is supposed to have runoff controls to prevent excessive runoff from causing floods. Those drainage ponds also absorb nitrogen in the plants there (which is later released, when the plant dies.)

    Sooner or later, that nitrogen is going to cause something to grow, somewhere. Blaming it on impervious surfaces is just misusing the facts. Impervious surfaces don’t cause nitrogen. However, what little is there does get flushed off rapidly.

    And, what you say about a sudden rush of water (partially due to accelerated runoff from impervious surfces) causing stream bed scouring is true.

    But, developed areas are only 4% of the total area, and impervious surfaces are less than that. It doesn’t make sense that the part of the one third of nitrates that are airborn, falling on 4% of the land area, and maybe 1% of impervious surfaces is a place we should be looking to solve the major portion of the problem.

    My house has a (mostly) impervious roof, but it increases the runoff to the Bay by zero, because it is surrounded by acres of forest and grassland. You just can’t throw all impervious surfaces in the same bag. For houses with a decent size lot the same thing is true to a lesser and lesser degree, depending on the ratio of the lot to the roof (and topology). But of course, there are the roads to serve the lot.

    There’s not some giant filter at the mouth of each river, and there is not one on each tailpipe or parking lot either (although require dranage basins are partail filters): The Nitrogen is going to go somewhere, and then come back again for the next round. It is a perpetual cycle we cannot stop. All we can do is restrict part of the cycle and cause a (temporary) increase in one place vs another.

    But, if you want to talk about toxics, other than NOX, then impervious surfaces are a problem. And even then it’s not the surfaces that are the source of the problem. Even here, the sink basins are probably as big a source of toxins as the impervious surfaces, you can find virtually anything in the storm sewers if you look long enough.

    And all of that is going downhill. Around here, that means it is going to the Bay.

    It might be a lot easier and cheaper just to pump air into the chesapeake to eliminate the dead zones. Sufficient oxygenation is also likely to help break downthe other toxins as well, but some material is quite refractory


    “The rat developers find it cheaper to build homes after knocking down every tree. So they bulldoze whole forests and build houses.”

    Frequently they have to do that in order to meet the grading requirements, runoff, and storm drain regulations, plus providing all the in-kind proffers.

    Don’t blame the developers for what they are ordered to do.

    Go look at old pictures of Fall church, and you will see that when those structures were new, there wer not any where near as many large trees as now.

    I agree the landscaping builders put in is pathetic, but asking for fifty year old trees is unrealistic. It does cost extra to keep the trees, and sometimes it just can’t be done.

    I hope you are not over fertilizing the grass under those trees ;-).


  29. Anonymous Avatar

    Groveton’s Anecdote about his neighbors horse ring was amuzing, and probably on target. I hope his neighbor doesn’t read BRB.

    I see a lot of that, activities that increase runoff, but which get a lot different scrutiny than developers get.

    But, the guy has six acres, when all is said and done, how much of that is really impervious? Assuming the impervious parts are not right at the edge, how much does it increase runoff from his property? Probably some, and it is the cumulative effect that matters. But you would have to assume that all the part that is not impervious is already absorbing all it can before it starts shedding excess water.

    But the impervious parts are not the parts accumulating nitrogen. (That horse paddock will be pretty impervious after the horse packs it down for a few years.)

    You can blame the impervious parts for increasing the “rush hour” water flow, but you can’t blame them for Nitrogen. Even if two thirds of nitrates com e from areial deposition, most of that will fall on ground that is not impervious.

    If you don’t like development, then say so, but don;t make up arguments that don’t (ahem) hold water.


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