Gamesa officials have started to make the public rounds as wind projects have begun to spring up in both Cambria and Somerset counties, bringing questions and some opposition from the affected communities.
Company representatives met with local newspapers and held the first of several planned town hall meetings Wednesday.
“It’s important that people understand what’s going on and they’re not blind-sided,” Ellen Lutz, Gamesa’s director of development for the Atlantic region, said during an editorial conference Wednesday at the Daily American.
The company, whose Shaffer Mountain project has come under criticism, got off to a slow start when it came to providing a forum to the public, she said.
“Somehow in the last year, there was some information that was brought forward that, as far as Gamesa can tell, we don’t see the facts in which it’s based on. There seems to have (been) some kind of snowballing effect,” she said.
That effect has led to several local municipalities and environmental organizations condemning the project. Since February, Paint Township supervisors, Paint Borough Council, Windber Borough Council, Scalp Level Borough Council, the Windber Area Authority and the Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited have all formally opposed the project.
However, the 30-turbine wind farm, which is projected to extend through parts of Shade and Ogle townships in Somerset County and Napier Township in Bedford County, has been subject to extensive studies by Gamesa and should meet environmental standards, Lutz said.
Scott Tattar, a Gamesa spokesman, said the more people learn about wind energy, the more they can have an informed opinion about their projects.
“We think a lot of it’s going to come back to some of the myths that are out there and hopefully we’ll be able to dispel them,” he said.
While those opposing the Shaffer Mountain project continue to maintain that the energy company is being reckless when it comes to the environment, Lutz said that environmental concerns have already caused them to make significant changes to the initial proposal.
A second phase project of 40 more turbines was canceled over environmental concerns, she said.
“There are best practices that you can do to deal with things like that, but I’m not saying you can just build in every environmentally sensitive area.”
With that in mind, they decided developing a second phase would not be responsible, Lutz said. “We felt there were a few environmentally sensitive aspects to that project that, we as a company, made a decision that it wasn’t the right place to build.”
For now, Gamesa, which owns the subsidiary company Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm LLC, has entered the final permit cycle for the project.
The company filed for permits with the Somerset County Conservation District on March 5, starting a process that could take several months. The plan will be sent to the state Department of Environmental Protection for an individual review because of the sensitive nature of the project.
Gamesa officials also hope to hold another town hall meeting – this time in the Somerset area – later this year.
By Dan DiPaolo
Daily American 30 North Chief
26 April 2007
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