Standing at the base of one of the 43 turbines comprising the Waymart Wind Farm, it’s easy to see how the towering structures dominate the landscape.
Each structure stands 213 feet high, and the three blades, each measuring 110 feet in length, spin effortlessly atop Moosic Mountain in western Wayne County. The first glimpse of the turbines from state Route 6 presents a surreal image like something from a Road Warrior movie.
“It’s not beautiful or complimentary,” said Waymart resident Donald Goetz. “From a distance, it looks like hell. It’s not an asset to the community.”
When the Waymart facility was constructed in 2003 in Clinton and Canaan townships, Goetz said residents in a 10-mile square area lost their television reception from turbine interference. He said FPL Energy has “piece-mealed” the problem by erecting two television towers, but it hasn’t been solved.
“This is like a six-mile-long fence,” he said.
In Bear Creek Township, Energy Unlimited will pay the municipality an initial sum of $39,000 plus an annual fee of approximately $3,000 per turbine for the Penobscot Mountain Wind Farm.
The facility is located on land owned by Luzerne County, and Energy Unlimited purchased the wind rights to the property from the Theta Land Corp. before it was sold.
The property is in the process of being turned over to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for its state park system, which would allow public access.
Turbine blades can accumulate ice that can be thrown several hundred feet, according to Wells, which makes safety a concern.
She said the turbines are monitored for ice build-up and when it does occur, employees leave the area.
“We build our facilities on private property and it’s our expectation that people abide by posted signs,” she said.
“On those occasions when we do have ice, we don’t want people near them.”
Because the Penobscot Mountain site is on public property, the danger of ice presents a unique dilemma. Connelly said he never envisioned an ice accumulation on the blades. DCNR spokeswoman Gretchen Leslie said there’s no precedent for wind facilities on state parks or forests, so her agency would have to discuss the matter with the owner.
“We would have to look at options, which could be shutting down the turbines during icing periods or closing off areas for safety reasons,” she said. “It remains to be seen what the solution is, but we are concerned with public safety and would take precautions.”
FPL Energy, which owns the Waymart wind facility, pays the private landowner a lease between $1,000 and $5,000 each year, according to Mary Wells, community outreach coordinator for FPL.
In Pennsylvania, machinery and equipment isn’t taxed as real estate, so FPL Energy pays the townships $50,000 total in taxes for the buildings and tower pads.
Goetz said the municipalities have been seeking additional tax revenue from FPL Energy, but the company has been unwilling to compromise.
“In Bear Creek, they will realize financial benefits, but not here,” he said. “That amounts to short-changing the community.”
Wells acknowledged that residents were concerned about the project in the beginning, but she said worries have been quelled since construction was completed.
The scale of the project has attracted the interest of sightseers, she said, and the turbines have blended in with the community.
“In most places, they settle in very quickly,” Wells said. “There are individuals who can’t be reconciled and we understand that people like their view. But there’s value to renewable energy and these are baby steps.”
No matter how small the step, the project has impacted residents.
Rose Marie Derk, who lives a mile away from the turbines, said the noise and aesthetic impact have been significant.
She said the turbines sound like a large industrial fan and the disturbance is more noticeable at night when there is no traffic.
“When you go to bed and your windows are open, you’re hit with this buzz and roar,” Derk said. “They’re in the wrong place.”
Derk said numerous residents tried to stop the project at the township level to no avail.
Now that the turbines are up, she said they look “outrageous and scary” and the benefits to the community have been minimal.
“People thought they’d get their electric bill reduced, but ours went up and we’re getting nothing,” Derk said. “I can’t understand what anybody thought they’d get out of this. This company came in, destroyed the top of the mountain and left us with it.”
Prompton resident Raymond Vogt, who lives about three miles from the Waymart turbines, said the facility has destroyed the view of the area.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’ve been more of a detriment so far,” he said. “They take up much more room than other forms of power and in Bear Creek there’ll be people who won’t like what they do to the view. It’s like a fence.”
Several residents, along with the Northeastern Chapter of the Sierra Club and the North Branch Land Trust, have opposed the Bear Creek Township location for Energy Unlimited’s planned turbine facility.
The location was identified by the Nature Conservancy as one of the most environmentally valuable places in the county in 2001, namely due to the presence of oak barren habitat and rare plant species.
Bud Cook, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Northeast Office, said they reviewed a map of the turbine locations in Bear Creek and determined the project would have a minimal impact on the barrens habitat.
Energy Unlimited has completed studies on bald eagles and has implemented an Indiana bat study to avoid any impact on those species, according to Project Manager John Connelly.
Energy Unlimited has also hired a consultant, Dr. Kenneth Klemow, to delineate wetlands and conduct a rare plant and oak barrens survey so the turbines wouldn’t be erected in those areas.
Klemow also served as an environmental consultant for the Waymart site, which he said has a more diverse forest habitat than the Bear Creek Township location.
“At this site we will avoid the scrub oak (barrens) and we’re looking at impacting woodland that is average or lower in the ecosystem,” he said.
But environmental concerns do persist with the project.
Dr Henry Smith, a board member with Defend Our Watershed, said the property is the wrong place for a wind facility that he classifies as an industrial use.
Smith has started a Web site (www.savecrystallake.org) to raise awareness of the potential environmental impacts, which include the barrens habitat and the Crystal Lake reservoir, which supplies drinking water to the area. Nine of the turbines would border Crystal Lake, and Smith is concerned about degradation to the watershed.
“The Nature Conservancy has made it clear this is one of the most important parcels in the county and the Northeast for preservation. Industrializing it is grossly inappropriate,” Smith said.
“I suspect we will only recognize our mistake when we witness the destruction of the watershed and forests required for installing these turbines. By then, it will be too late.”
Derk agreed and said she has been through the same process with the Waymart facility.
She said a group of residents tried to warn the community about the negative aspects of the project-ranging from noise to aesthetics- but the damage has already been done.
“My message to the people in Bear Creek is keep saying no and keep fighting because it’s horrendous. We feel we got shafted and there’s nothing we can do,” Derk said. “Unless they want their land values destroyed, keep fighting it. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry in the long-run.”
By Tom Venesky, Staff Writer
16 May 2005
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding