Crowding into the old Noxen Schoolhouse Tuesday evening, residents’ view was crystal clear of South Mountain, the site BP Alternative Energy is considering for a wind farm.
How the township should and could regulate such a project is far from clear.
“This isn’t settled law,” Noxen solicitor Ron Kamage said. “There’s no decision that I can point to and say, ‘We can regulate ( wind turbines) this way.’ ”
Should BP move forward with a wind farm in the Wyoming County township, Noxen supervisors could find themselves in situation similar to other local governments in Pennsylvania – creating new law.
Regulations pertaining to Pennsylvania’s emerging wind energy industry are not uniform. Although some state agencies – such as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Protection, Game Commission and others – can regulate or make recommendations of parts of such projects, local municipalities typically have the final say. Local authorities are left to determine setbacks from homes, wetlands and other issues of direct impact.
Noxen’s board of supervisors is considering a nuisance ordinance that would regulate certain aspects of wind farms. Supervisors tabled the ordinance at their May 1 meeting, at the request of BP representatives.
One issue the company had, Kamage said, is that ordinance would limited turbine size in the township to 2 megawatts, allowing nothing larger.
“We’re learning, too,” Noxen Supervisor Carl Shook said. “We don’t want to do anything that could negatively affect the township.”
Resident Cathie Pauley said she has a lot of concerns about a wind farm on South Mountain, particularly how it could affect flooding in the area. She said she was disappointed supervisors didn’t pass the ordinance.
“Do we ask kids how late they want their curfew?” she asked.
Under Pennsylvania municipal law, every municipality must allow space for any type of land usage. Townships can regulate how close turbines are to streams, homes and other entities, but they cannot say they are not permitted.
Bear Creek Township Solicitor Bill Vinsko, who helped draft a wind turbine zoning ordinance in that community, said the key is to seek the help of state agencies.
“My advice is to make the ordinance adaptable to future changes,” Bear Creek Solicitor. “Make sure that you contact DEP, the game commission, and require those agencies to grant approval of a wind farm before it’s built.”
Bear Creek’s supervisors passed their zoning ordinance in August. Among other things, it limits turbines proximity to wetlands and homes.
Many zoning issues with the emerging industry haven’t been addressed, said Vinsko, who in addition to the Bear Creek cases, has helped five other municipalities and seven homeowners with wind farm related issues.
“There are all kinds of things to consider … taxing issues, decommissioning,” he said. “You don’t want this to be a wind farm graveyard if for some reason the company up and leaves.”
Pauley, who attended Tuesday’s informational meeting about the project, echoes the concern most residents who live near wind farms have expressed.
“I am not against windmills,” she said. “We have to find some form of energy that doesn’t pollute. We’ve got to change. Do it right. Just do it right. ”
For Noxen’s supervisors, the question now, is how.
By Coulter Jones
The Citizens’ Voice
23 May 2007
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