It’s just as windy atop Penobscot Mountain in Bear Creek today as it was three years ago when Energy Unlimited Inc. introduced plans to put a wind farm near Crystal Lake.
But, the future of any potential wind farm project on county-owned land near Crystal Lake in Bear Creek Township is looking less likely every day. Despite losing an appeal in Commonwealth Court last month, Energy Unlimited plans to continue to push for a proposed 34-turbine wind farm, filing more appeals in court, hoping opinion in this township could change, and issuing news releases about environmental impact for a project that looks less likely every day.
“We’re going to continue forward,” Energy Unlimited president David Lamm said. “We still think that’s a great place for a wind farm, and we think the public is behind us.”
Residents against the project, who worry about the environmental impact, use of county-owned land by a private company, among other things, have questioned Energy Unlimited’s proposal and its perceived supporters.
History of the project
Energy Unlimited acquired the wind rights to the land, prior to the 2003 sale of Theta Corp. land to Luzerne County. The 835-acre sliver that Energy Unlimited wants to use is less than 10 percent of the more than 10,000 acres purchased by the county government for recreation and preservation purposes.
Energy Unlimited kept the wind rights under the terms of the sale, a point it has expressed both in court and publicly in defending its rights to build wind turbines on the land. But the ongoing legal battle between the company and the township, as well as the company and a local environmental group, have stemmed from zoning issues and not the wind rights issue.
The board of supervisors rejected both of Energy Unlmited’s plans for 25 turbines and the additional nine turbines – the combined 34 turbines are part of the same plan, but were submitted separately. The nine additional turbines are dependent on the other 25 to operate.
In 2004, Energy Unlimited announced plans to develop a 34-turbine facility on the property. The turbines will stand 200-feet high and the blades will have a diameter of 250 feet, each estimated to produce 2 megawatts of energy per turbine.
Several township boards, including its supervisors, rejected the plans, because of zoning issues. The company appealed, but Commonwealth Court sided with the township, deciding Feb. 16 that plans for the 25 turbines were not presented in full to the zoning board and supervisors. Energy Unlimited filed another appeal.
“It seems pretty unlikely that the court would reverse itself,” Bear Creek Solicitor William Vinsko said. “We’re very confident in our case.”
Energy Unlimited’s attorney, Ernie Preate, would not comment about future appeals to the state supreme court.
“We’ll address those issues, when we have to,” he said.
In a meeting with The Citizens’ Voice editorial board, representatives from Energy Unlimited justified their plans, saying the wind farm wouldn’t curtail public use of the land and called opposition to the wind farm political in nature.
“There’s another project in town that didn’t receive nearly as much scrutiny as our proposal,” Lamm said, referring to the 12 turbines on Bald Mountain. “We think a lot of this is just a political issue. A different board (of supervisors) would’ve viewed this differently.”
Even if Lamm’s assertions are correct, Energy Unlimited would have difficulty placing all 34 wind turbines associated with this plan in the same location near Crystal Lake if it had to start anew in the zoning approval process.
In August, township supervisors passed a wind mill zoning ordinance, outlining setbacks from streams, houses and other properties. Unofficial estimates using the ordinance’s rules show Energy Unlimited’s proposed plans would only be able to place about half of the turbines.
Still, with an upcoming fall election that would place three new supervisors on the board, actions could change. For the first time in township history, the township will have five supervisors. A dozen candidates filed to run for the three seats in the May primary election.
Supervisors Ruth Koval and Bonnie Wasilewski have voted against the wind farm on most votes. Supervisor Gary Slusser has been the lone vote in favor of the plan.
“They’ve presented so many different plans, you really don’t know what you’re voting on,” Koval said. “If they had done it right from the beginning, we wouldn’t have dealt with a lot of this.”
Energy Unlimited proposed to pay the township $3,000 per turbine annually under its plans. The existing 12 turbines on Bald Mountain pay about $1,000 annually.
By Coulter Jones, Staff Writer
26 March 2007
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