If you go up to the Rattlesnake Roundup this weekend in Noxen, take a look beyond the snakes.
Look past the fenced snake pen, the crowd of people and the bucolic small town.
Focus on the mountains that guard over Noxen, for they are about to change.
BP Alternative Energy is eyeing the mountains as the future sight of a wind turbine facility. The corporate energy giant believes the top of the ridge may be a suitable location for 30 to 70 turbines. Township residents beg to differ, and I can understand why.
The mountain ridge behind Noxen defines the town. You can’t go into Noxen without noticing the looming, green mountains towering over the homes and farms.
Aside from some timbering activity, the mountains are relatively untouched. They look the same as they did when the town was founded in the 1700’s, and that’s a good thing.
On the surface, the prospect of wind energy sounds good. Rather than burn coal or rely on nuclear, why not harness the wind for an emission-free energy source?
It can work, to a degree. The biggest problem with wind energy is with the source. The wind doesn’t always blow, and when it doesn’t, the old standbys of coal and nuclear production are needed to fill the gap in electricity generation.
The turbines can also wreak havoc on bat and bird populations that have an understandably hard time maneuvering through the spinning blades.
And yes, a turbine, all 200 feet of it, is an eyesore if it’s located in the wrong area.
In 2005 I visited the 43-turbine turbine facility in Waymart. The area is a lot like Noxen – towering mountains flanking farms and small towns. The turbines, though, effectively erase any feeling of small town America that existed. Instead, the area looks and feels like a scene from the Road Warrior movie. The monstrous 213-foot turbines dominate the landscape while their 110-foot blades spin effortlessly. A low hum can be heard across the landscape, and when the sun is right the light flickers with every rotation.
It’s a clash of high-tech futuristic behemoths and small town, rural America.
Simply put, there are some areas where the turbines don’t fit in, and towering over a small town is one of them.
Noxen has more than aesthetic impacts to be concerned about.
Last June, the town was ravaged by flooding. Unusually heavy rain transformed Bowmans Creek, which traverses the town, into a raging, destructive torrent.
While the skies continued to dump rain, the mountains did hold back some water runoff from blasting the town further.
If the turbines go up, the trees will have to come down and roads will snake up the sides of the mountains. And when it rains, more water will come off the mountain into the town. It could be a recipe for disaster.
The Noxen supervisors have been presented with an ordinance designed to protect the community against the negative impacts of turbines. It doesn’t prohibit wind energy; it just better defines where it can go.
BP wants to weigh in on the ordinance before any action is taken and protect their stake.
And the residents want the supervisors to act and protect their homes, their town and the mountain.
In the middle are the supervisors, faced with a decision to do what the residents want and risk going to court against a deep-pocketed corporate giant.
It’s not a good position to be in, and it might be worse than standing in the middle of a rattlesnake pen.
By Tom Venesky
17 June 2007
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