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Big changes for Big Valley?  

Author:  | Environment, General, Health, Noise, Pennsylvania, Tourism, Wildlife

Big changes are literally looming on the horizon for Big Valley. Not just Big Valley, but many other areas of Mifflin County will see some big changes on the top of Jacks and Stone Mountains if industrial wind projects are built. Jacks Mountain is targeted for two industrial wind projects. Volkswind and E.ON, two German companies, plan to construct industrial power plants on top of Jacks Mountain.

E.ON is also testing wind speeds on Stone Mountain. The test tower on Stone Mountain is easy to see from the northeastern end of Airydale along Rt. 655 – look toward Stone Mountain and you will see the tower. Volkswind has a test tower on Jacks Mountain above Belleville, readily seen from Apple House Road and Dry House Road. The test towers are meteorological towers that collect data on wind speed and direction.

Jacks Mountain is narrow and steep on top in many places, so there will have to be a huge cut-and-fill construction project to create a ledge wide enough to place roads, underground connecting cables and industrial turbines. Each turbine will have a cleared area beside it large enough for a huge crane. The cranes and turbines must be sited on a compacted, level area devoid of trees.

The impact to the top of Jacks Mountain will be significant. The trees on top will be cut; stumps will be buried and possibly burned. The rocks will be blasted. The rubble will be bulldozed. A wide flat ledge will be fashioned out of rock so heavy equipment can travel along the top. The turbines will be built on that ledge. A wide road without any tree cover will connect the turbines. A clearing along the road will contain buried cables that connect the turbines.

Forward Wind Project, owned by Mission Edison – Somerset Co., Pa.

Forward Wind Project, owned by Mission Edison – Somerset Co., Pa.

Volkswind’s Proposed Project

We know that Volkswind plans to construct 20 industrial turbines that will be 436 feet tall, measured to he tip of the upright blade. Volkswind has submitted the 20 location points to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval. The turbines will be on top of Jacks Mountain and will dominate the skyline for over 4 miles, impacting Granville, Union, and Menno Townships.

Any type of construction project on steep slopes will have to comply with DEP’s water pollution regulations and that will require a lot of sediment traps and retention basins built downslope from the turbines and the road – adding even more changes to the forested slopes on Jacks.

Fortunately, DEP has strict regulations for construction, to reduce the erosion and sedimentation problems that occur when building on steep slopes. That might be why there are no other wind projects in Pennsylvania, which I know of, that have been constructed on a mountain as steep and narrow as Jacks. There was one project proposed for Dunning Mountain in Bedford County, which is a lot like Jacks Mountain, but the company eventually abandoned the project.

E.ON’s Proposed Project

We know even less about E.ON’s plans for its wind project, but we suspect that this project will be much larger than Volkswind’s, and will be built on both Stone and Jacks Mountains. Based on the limited information available on the PJM grid, upwards of 75 turbines might be built, possibly impacting 8-9 miles of Stone and Jacks Mountains.

The PJM grid is part of the Eastern Interconnection grid that operates the electric transmission system in all or parts of 13 states, plus the District of Columbia. PJM (which stands for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland), headquartered in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is the world’s largest competitive wholesale electricity market. Watch for a later article that explains more about how the grid operates
and why large amounts of wind energy added to the grid increase the likelihood of having power outages.

Impact on Water Supplies

Clearing and excavating huge amounts of rock and dirt on steep slopes will significantly change how the mountains supply water to the farms, homes, and businesses in the valleys below Stone and Jacks Mountains. Forested mountains act like a giant sponge when it rains. The trees soften and slow the impact of stormwater, allowing the rain and melting snow to seep into the ground. Down slope, this water flows to the surface as a spring, or forms a stream. When the trees are cut on the upper slopes of mountains, and replaced by wide roads, concrete pads, and clearings, there is a lot of runoff during storms and snowmelt. Stormwater channels will be needed, as well as many retention basins. What might look good on paper doesn’t always work. Maintenance is always an issue, too. There is often little oversight on maintaining stormwater controls and road grading after the wind project is constructed.

One inch of rainfall on 4 acres totals about 110,000 gallons of water. Where does water go when trees and underbrush have been removed on top of a mountain? Downhill, and in a hurry! The culverts and ditches will actually concentrate the force of water, which will require many infiltration areas with very deep soils.

The entire water recharge system on top of the mountain will change. Who knows how that will affect wells, springs, and streams so vital to farms and communities in the valleys?

Impact on Scenic Viewsheds and Tourism

Pick up any real estate listing in central Pennsylvania and one of the selling points often listed is “beautiful mountain views.” Many people live in Mifflin County and surrounding areas because they value the rural lifestyle and beautiful surroundings. Whether you like the looks of wind turbines or not, turbines create a visual clutter on the landscape that can’t be denied. Many people oppose wind turbines built on mountains because they transform an undeveloped, wild area into mile after mile of industrial power plants. The turning blades during the day and the red blinking lights at night are a distraction which many people find to be objectionable. We’ve developed our valleys, but the steep topography of our mountains has protected them until now. Uncluttered, open space on forested mountains provides important safeguards for communities, such as clean water and air.

Beautiful mountains also draw tourists to the area, especially to enjoy the dramatic color as the leaves change color in the fall. Busloads of tourists stop at the top of Jacks Mountain to visit the hawk watch and to enjoy the rural views and colorful scenery. Will tourists want to visit an area when the mountains are degraded by industrial turbine projects?

Impact on Health

Turbines produce various types of noise: one type is a screeching and thumping when the blades rotate or turn. This noise has been described as jets circling in the sky, or giant washing machines spinning overhead for hours at a time. The noise is most bothersome at night, and may prevent people from getting enough sleep. A high-pitched whistle also occurs when the tape on the leading edge of a blade becomes loose. Blades have shattered and pieces have been flung many feet away from the tower. Ice builds up on the blades in the winter, making it unsafe to be near turbines. These huge icicles are flung with tremendous force and have actually smashed through truck windshields. Eventually the blades stop turning when icing occurs, but accidents may occur before the turbines are stopped.

Another type of noise produced by turbines is a low-frequency vibration that may cause severe health problems in people susceptible to this type of vibration. While much research remains to be done, doctors all over the world are dealing with patients who live near wind turbines. Some people experience migraines, dizziness, palpitations, vertigo, and other illnesses only when they are near wind turbines. A growing number of doctors recognize that the low-frequency vibrations can affect the delicate sensors in the ear, as well as cause other body organs to resonate. The wind industry in general denies any health-related problems – much like the tobacco industry denied that smoking causes cancer in some people.

Some wind experts advise that turbines should be set back at least a mile from residences, as this will avoid most of the noise problem caused by turbines.

In the case of Volkswind’s proposed project, some of the turbines will be quite close to homes on both sides of Jacks Mountain, so it is likely that there will be health problems caused by the noise.

More details on health issues will be addressed in a future article.

Wind Turbines Kill Wildlife

Both Jack’s Mountain and Stone Mountain have hawk watches where volunteer counters have recorded many years worth of data showing that these mountains serve as important migratory pathways for thousands of birds. Bats also migrate along the top of the mountains, as do monarch butterflies and various species of dragonflies. In some areas, the wind turbine blades have to be cleaned, because the crust of dead insects creates a drag on the leading edge of the blade.

Industrial wind turbines kill birds through direct hits and indirectly by degrading their habitats. Bats are killed when they fly near a turbine – their delicate lungs explode from the sudden drop in air pressure. Future articles will explain in more detail why biologists are greatly concerned about industrial wind’s threats to wildlife. Even though wind turbines do not produce toxic pollution, they still kill many species of wildlife.

It’s Really All About Federal Subsidies

Industrial wind companies need four main resources to operate: proximity to transmission lines, good prices for electricity, adequate wind, and government subsidies. Jacks and Stone Mountains offer the first three and tax payers kick in the subsidies.

Electricity produced by the proposed wind projects will have to be routed to substations and then fed to transmission lines in Big Valley and on Jacks Mountain. The power market has good prices in the eastern United States.

The other necessary resource is wind. Pennsylvania’s windiest areas are on our mountains – that’s why wind companies want to build on top of Jacks and Stone Mountains. But the wind resources in Pennsylvania are limited. The average production from wind projects in Pennsylvania is only 25%. We just don’t have the steady, reliable winds that are needed to produce much electricity.

The fourth resource, federal subsidies, is really why wind companies are targeting Pennsylvania’s mountains. Even though we do not have good wind resources, the federal payments make the projects feasible. Right now companies are receiving a production tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is substantial.

The Wind Production Tax Credit expired at the end of 2012, but was extended as part of a deal cut by politicians to avoid the spending cuts and steep tax increases on the middle class – the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

According to the Institute for Energy Research, as long as the wind project is operating by 2015, the developers will receive the credit for the next 10 years. Even projects that come online after the 2015 deadline could possibly qualify.

Supporters of the Wind Production Tax Credit point out that all energy production is subsidized, and this is true. Wind and other renewables, however, are the only ones that get tax credits based on production, which makes this subsidy highly lucrative for companies. That’s why so many fossil fuel-based companies are developing wind projects. They want the easy money available from government handouts.

How can you help?

Volkswind and E.ON have not received any permits to build these industrial power plants on Jacks or Stone Mountain, so it isn’t too late to contact the township supervisors in Granville, Menno, Union, and Wayne Townships in Mifflin County. Brady Township is impacted in Huntingdon County. If you live in the Belleville area, call and thank the Union Township supervisors for passing a wind ordinance to help protect the residents and the wildlife. While it is illegal to ban a project, or to impose a moratorium, it is legal to regulate setbacks and noise limits. Union Township supervisors developed an ordinance that will help to protect residents from noise and safety concerns.

Call the township office where you live and ask the supervisors to pass an ordinance that regulates setbacks and noise limits. Supervisors have the duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the township residents. Tell the supervisors you are concerned about industrial projects planned for the top of the mountains and ask them to protect your way of life by providing some safeguards.

Then join Friends of Jacks Mountain – it’s free!!! Please cut out, fill out, and mail the membership form:

jacks-mtn-membership-form

Laura Jackson is a retired biology and environmental science teacher, amateur naturalist, and nature photographer who used to support industrial wind energy development in Pennsylvania until she learned about all the negative impacts to wildlife, habitats, watersheds, and communities. She helped to start Save Our Allegheny Ridges (SOAR) in 2006 after wind projects were proposed for Dunning Mountain and Shaffer Mountain in Bedford and Somerset Counties. Owing to SOAR’s efforts, both projects were terminated in 2012. Laura serves as the President of SOAR and volunteers her time and expertise to help other communities regulate industrial wind development. SOAR is a 501(c)(3) organization, so any donations are tax-deductible. SOAR is partnering with Friends of Jacks Mountain to educate residents and municipal officials about the impacts of wind projects on Jacks and Stone Mountains. SOAR membership dues are $25 and can be sent to SOAR, P0 Box 178, Everett, PA 15537. Any donations over $25 will be used 100% for regulating wind development on Jacks and Stone Mountains.

The Valley, October 2013 – issuu.com

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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