With Gamesa hoping to build 25 wind turbines atop Mahantango Mountain in northern Dauphin County, changes in the lives of Upper Paxton Twp. residents could be coming.
The township, which would host many of the Gamesa wind turbines, is to hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the township building to hear comments on proposed changes to the township wind ordinance that would govern how Gamesa operates.
The changes would be part of a zoning ordinance that has been on the books since 1994. That might seem surprising in a rural township, but more of them have zoning than is commonly thought. Of 1,456 second-class townships in the state, nearly 800 have zoning ordinances, according to the state township association.
“We won’t take action [Wednesday]. At this point, we want to get comments,” said Thomas Shaffer, chairman of the board of supervisors. “A couple of people who own mountain ground have asked questions.”
Among proposed changes is removal of a 100-foot height limitation. Shaffer said current wind turbines are much taller, as much as three to four times higher than the current limitation. The proposed ordinance contains no height limit.
“But it’s still going to be a conditional use,” he said. “They’re going to have to meet certain construction requirements.”
Shaffer said that even though Gamesa has announced its project, it has not submitted a permit application and will not be “grandfathered” under the old ordinance. He said Gamesa did not offer input into the proposed regulations.
All wind turbines will require a permit issued by the township. No wind turbines could be constructed in areas zoned residential, multifamily residential or residential mobile home park. All other areas, including conservation zones, would be permissible provided the township issues a permit.
If someone leases part of his land to a turbine company, the ordinance requires the distance from the foundation of his home to the base of the turbine to be at least 1.1 times the turbine height – measured from the ground to the tip of the blade standing straight upward.
For a Gamesa G87 turbine, the model likely to be built on Mahantango Mountain, that would be a minimum setback of just more than 444 feet.
The rule would be different for homes of people who did not lease ground for the turbines. For these, the setback requirement would be at least two times the hub height, meaning from the ground to the hub to which the blades are attached. For a Gamesa G87 turbine, the minimum setback in this instance would be 525 feet.
No property owner would be allowed to waive the setback requirements. According to the ordinance, only the Upper Paxton Twp. Zoning Hearing Board can do that by issuing a variance.
Noise from a wind turbine could not exceed 55 decibels, according to the ordinance. While this is hard to define, it is often described as a level that allows two people 10 feet apart to carry on a normal conversation. The protection does not apply to people who have leased ground for a wind turbine.
Shaffer said part of the ordinance has to do with the problem of “shadow flicker,” or the disco ball-like shadows created by the turning blades of a wind turbine. This has been an issue around some wind farms. Again, the protection would apply only to people who have not leased land for a wind turbine.
Any public road damage caused by the wind farm owner or its contractors would have to be “promptly repaired” at the wind farm owner’s expense.
Nick Tichich, one of two project managers for Gamesa’s wind farm in Upper Paxton Twp., has seen a draft of the ordinance and said he doesn’t have any problems with it.
“I think it is great the township put in the effort to create it,” Tichich said. “It addresses the items we feel need to be addressed. We intend to comply.”
By David DeKok
Of The Patriot-News
6 April 2007
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