Renewable energy sources are a great hope for the future. But there is a time and place for everything. The time for the construction of wind power facilities is after environmental impact studies. The place is anywhere away from people and off of ridge-tops.
Governments: The European experience has demonstrated that the net economic effect of wind energy development is not positive. Failing to learn from this, the federal government passed legislation to give enormous tax subsidies to wind power companies. Pennsylvania compounded the problem by creating an artificial demand for electricity generated from industrial wind turbines – which is expected to result in the installation of several thousand huge machines within 10 years.
Wind energy is not green. It is red, as in “In the red.” Wind turbines are not profitable for anyone but the corporations who get the tax subsidies. The communities lose their quality of life, the municipalities get very little tax revenue, and a few landowners gain a pittance at the cost of an irreplaceable natural resource: the mountain ridges. If there were no tax subsidies there would be no industrial wind turbines.
Industrial wind turbines will not reduce our dependence on foreign oil – less than 3 percent of the oil we consume is for electricity. The only ones “in the black” are energy companies. No coal-fired plants will be closed as we rush to convert our ridge-top forests to wind-power installations. A coal-fired power plant operates at more than 80 percent of capacity in the summer when we demand the most electricity; wind turbines only average 15 percent of their capacity because the wind blows least during summer months.
Absentee Wind Power Corporations: The problem is not the government alone. It’s corporate influence on government. With the Gamesa plant located in Cambria County, there are political pressures to keep manufacturing jobs in the region. But the Gamesa plant at Ebensburg makes only turbine blades. Most of the jobs and other economic benefits from installing a Gamesa wind turbine get outsourced to Spain.
Nourished by tax subsidies, the wind power corporations behave badly. The Somerset County commissioners have received numerous complaints about aggressive tactics by Generation Resources LLC from Kansas. Township commissioners have been threatened with lawsuits if they enact restrictive regulations.
This corporation is able to avoid paying $2-million in federal income tax for every industrial wind turbine because of tax subsidies. At $2-million each for 18 turbines, that’s a cool $36-million in tax subsidies. When tower erection is completed, the project is immediately sold to Florida Power and Light or another ENRON-like corporation.
Absentee Property Owners: Fourteen of the eighteen turbines planned for the Lookout Project near Berlin are on properties owned by people who do not live there and will never have to look at them. Fifteen of the 20 Meyersdale turbines are on land owned by a speculator in Somerset.
These projects will not save any family farms. There is only one active farmer among the eight landowners who have leased their ridge-top for the 18 industrial wind towers proposed between Meyersdale and Berlin, and he will have just one.
Somerset County has no siting regulations to protect wildlife or scenic views. And no protection for the health consequences of turbines or adequate safeguards for neighbors’ property value. Recent home sales near the Somerset wind facility reveal that properties lost value.
A number of concerned citizens attended the meeting of the Somerset County commissioners on Oct. 31. Appeals were made to convene a new Ridge-top Advisory Committee to reflect new realities that have come to light since 2002. The commissioners were unwilling to address the issue.
In August, a huge document titled Somerset County Comprehensive Plan Update was published. On page 4-14, it reads “The scenic qualities of the County are one of the underlying pieces of green infrastructure that ties together all of the tourism attractions in the County.” There are many other such statements in the plan. I challenge the commissioners to live up to the promises made in their plan by safeguarding the integrity of the Somerset Community which they have pledged to serve; the Commissioners should act now to rein in the wind industry.
On Nov. 9, a Wind Energy Educational Forum will be held at UPJ (see: www.shol.com/agita/LookoutMountain ). Wind energy experts and a physician will present information about this issue. Please help by contacting your state and local representatives and ask them to join you to learn the facts that wind companies won’t tell you.
(Dr. Rick Bonomo is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who practices in Somerset and lives in Brothersvalley Township.)