As wind power gains steam as an alternate energy source in Pennsylvania, Donald Heintzelman wants to make sure the towering turbines are built far from the migratory routes of raptors and bats along the Appalachian Trail.
”I’m not opposed to wind facilities,” said Heintzelman, organizer of Saturday’s Wildlife and Wind Energy Conference at Kutztown University. ”I want them put in the correct place. Like it or not, these are coming.”
But most of the speakers at the conference weren’t as ready to embrace the inevitability of the new technology, saying the blades of the giant windmills kill tens of thousands of birds and bats, reduce their ability to nest and breed and are an eyesore. They also said wind is a poor alternative to fossil fuels because it will only decrease electrical consumption by a small percentage.
”You can’t just look at a project in isolation,” said Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents nonprofit conservation and wildlife organizations. ”You have to consider how it impacts species and habitat.”
Proponents say wind is a clean-energy technology that doesn’t pollute the air through emissions and will eventually reduce the country’s reliance on oil and gas. Construction of the windmills provides jobs and brings tax money and even tourist revenue to hardscrabble towns, they say.
Wind energy accounts for about 0.6 percent of electricity generated in the United States, but it’s the fastest-growing energy sector, with an annual increase of 29 percent for the last five years, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia are particularly attractive spots for the 450-feet-high turbines because the Appalachian Mountains run through those states.
”Any mountain ridge that would have class 3 [15 to 16 mph] wind velocity is considered,” said Heintzelman of Zionsville, a professional ornithologist and author of the Wildlife Protectors Handbook and other works.
There are six wind farms in Pennsylvania, with the closest one to the Lehigh Valley in Bear Creek, near Wilkes-Barre. At least two more are planned for the state, but more are certainly on the way, said Heintzelman, who hopes none come to the Kittatinny Ridge, an important migratory route for rare eagles, vultures and songbirds. The ridge winds 185 miles from Pennsylvania to Maryland.
”If it’s going to come to a ridge in Pennsylvania under no circumstances should it come to Kittatinny,” he said.
But developers of wind farms say they’re also concerned about the environmental impact of the turbines, noting wind doesn’t require the harvesting of a fossil fuel or emit carbon dioxide, the leading gas associated with global warming.
”There’s going to be an impact with any kind of energy development,” said Frank Maisano, media spokesman for a coalition of wind developers in the mid-Atlantic region. ”This has minimum impact.”
After a large number of bats were killed by turbines at a wind farm in Somerset County, FPL Energy worked with local officials and scientists to find a way to minimize the carnage, said Maisano, who was at the conference, but not as a speaker.
They developed a ”bat blaster” that emitted waves to deter bats from flying near the swirling blades, he said.
”These are people willing to find solutions to these issues,” said Maisano, who represents FPL, Clipper Windpower, U.S. Wind Force and other companies.
But Brian Mangan, an associate professor of biology and environmental science at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, said the wind energy industry receives federal tax credits and other incentives to build turbines that ultimately kill birds.
”All human activities have environmental costs,” he said. But most industries don’t ”wear the green label” of being environmentally friendly like the wind energy one, Mangan said.
”The driving force behind wind energy is money,” he said. ”That doesn’t make it a dark force. It makes it a business.”
By Kathleen Parrish Of The Morning Call