Some of Pennsylvania’s mountaintops may become a battleground between developers and environmentalists.
Developers are eyeing the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains, which cross the middle of the state, to construct wind turbines to generate electricity.
But migrating birds fly over those mountains every year and environmentalists worry the giant rotating blades of the turbines could kill many birds and alter their migrating patterns.
About 150 people, residents and members of conservation groups, gathered Saturday at Kutztown University to discuss the growth of wind energy in Pennsylvania and nearby states.
Donald S. Heintzelman, a bird enthusiast from Zionsville, Lehigh County, organized the conference. His goal was to bring attention to the threat posed by wind farms.
In Pennsylvania, local governments give final approval to wind farms, but some local officials may be ill-prepared to consider the impact to birds and even bats, Heintzelman said.
“We are not against wind turbines, but we are against placing them in the wrong location,” Heintzelman said. “The Appalachian Ridge is the wrong location.”
Of particular concern is the Kittatinny Ridge, which runs through Pennsylvania from Maryland to New York and includes Hawk Mountain in northern Berks and southern Schuylkill counties.
Dr. Christopher Farmer, a Hawk Mountain biologist, said most of the estimated 19,800 birds observed there each year fly less than 100 feet over the ridge line.
That’s significant because the blades of most turbines cut through the air about that height, creating the potential for bird collisions, Farmer said.
Kim Van Fleet, a biologist with Audubon Pennsylvania, said studies of bird habits show raptors and other birds of prey use the state’s ridge line as a guide for migration. The presence of wind turbines on mountaintops could alter migration patterns, she said.
The state needs to adopt guidelines requiring multi-year studies on potential sites of wind farms before construction, Van Fleet said.
Environmental consultant Daniel Boone said the benefits of wind energy are unsubstantiated.
About 1,200 turbines would produce the same amount of energy as the Limerick nuclear plant in Montgomery County, he said, adding that wind farms would threaten wildlife and ruin vistas.
But wind developers say turbines are an environmentally friendly source of energy that reduce emissions from power plants.
Frank V. Maisano, a spokesman for several developers in the Mid-Atlantic region, said the industry is making strides to reduce harm to birds and bats.
“What it comes down to is either people like them or they don’t,” Maisano said of the turbines.
Joe Green, who is developing a 13-turbine site on Locust Mountain near Mahanoy City in Schuylkill County, said he studied the impact on wildlife before construction.
The site the closest to Berks is expected to power 8,000 homes a year and to be on line later this month.
Studies showed that birds near Locust Mountain were flying out of the range of the 250-foot-tall turbines, Green said.
“The whole idea behind wind is that it is a green energy source,” Green said. “We look to make little or no impact on the environment.”
Contact reporter Darrin Youker at 610-371-5032 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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