A model turbine on display during a public meeting about the industrial wind complex proposed for northern Potter County demonstrated the enormity of the project. About 100 people, including supporters, opponents and a sizeable number of “undecideds,” filled the courtroom for Tuesday’s two and one-half hour session.
Energy giant AES Corporation wants to put almost 80 of the giant wind turbines on parcels spread out over 13,000 acres and two townships in the county’s agricultural region.
For more than an hour, representatives of Save God’s Country, the citizens’ group that has formed to combat the project, laid out their case. They then faced challenges from a landowner who has leased property to AES, and from Bob White, the company’s primary “man on the ground” in Potter County.
The comment that drew the loudest applause was from Maxine Harrison, an advocate of the Dark Skies initiative at Cherry Springs State Park, who suggested that the project be stalled indefinitely while its potential impact is fully assessed.
alleged Herb Miller, a spokesman for Save God’s Country, narrated a slide show warning of the impact of the turbines on human health, the environment, wildlife, the economy and the region’s way of life. Anti-wind plant videos were also shown.
Two of the biggest myths, Miller said, are that the wind plant will create a substantial number of jobs and will swell the tax base.
What few jobs are created will be low-skill and lowwage, mainly for site security and maintenance, Miller pointed out. He said state laws are tilted to allow AES to avoid paying real estate taxes, at the same time local residents will see their property value decline as a result of the project.
Miller’s presentation also spotlighted medical studies on the long-term impact of extended exposure to the noise, vibrations and “shadow flicker” of the machines. One researcher, Dr Nina Pierpont, has coined “wind turbine syndrome” to describe the medical condition she has documented, marked by symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, anxiety and nausea.
Study group proposed
He called on the Potter County Board of Commissioners to appoint a study group to objectively assess the AES plan, with an eye toward fighting it through county zoning or other regulations. All three commissioners, Ken Wingo, John Torok and Catherine Bowers, as were several members of the Potter County Planning Commission.
Another Save God’s Country member, Arthur Kear, displayed a model of a typical wind turbine to demonstrate its 400-foot height.
“AES proposes to place 79 of these monsters on six pristine ridges,” Kear said. “We cannot let this happen.”
A third member, Bob Daley, read a summary of his research into AES Corporation’s history as, in his words, “one of the biggest polluters in the world.”
He accused the company of choosing Potter County based more on tax breaks, government subsidies and the lack of zoning regulations than on the region’s potential for generating electricity from wind.
Wind plant defended
Although the majority of those in the audience appeared to oppose the AES plan, there were supporters who welcomed the chance to challenge the Save God’s Country group’s conclusions.
Jim Hoopes, a farmer who plans to lease property to AES, said he has visited several wind plants to assess the noise and other potential drawbacks.
“I’m probably going to have one of those turbines closer to my house than anybody, so I wanted to know,” Hoopes said. “These turbines are very quiet.”
Stan Goodwin of Coudersport reported similar findings when he traveled to an area where a wind plant is in operation. “And let’s remember, property owners have some rights,” Goodwin added.
AES’s White said he was hesitant to contest much of the “misinformation” he heard during the program, but he offered to discuss issues individually with anyone present at Tuesday’s meeting.
White said accusations that AES would be not be paying taxes on the turbines were inaccurate. He added that many of the specific issues raised by Save God’s Country would be addressed during the permitting and review process.
AES is also working with state environmental agencies and wildlife organizations to diminish the wind plant’s impact on wildlife and plant species.
“Quite frankly, the law in Pennsylvania isn’t much,” White said. “We believe that the right thing to do is to do more than the law requires.”
Long-time Coudersport resident Tom Leete, who served for decades as a member of the Potter County Planning Commission, said he hoped the wind plant issue would be the catalyst that prompts county officials to adopt a zoning ordinance.
10 February 2007
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