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Testimony heard on windmills

After an afternoon of testimony on Wednesday, a hearing on the application for special exceptions to permit 12 wind-powered turbines was continued until next week before the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board.

The windmills, which harness the wind for electricity, would be located in Georges and Springhill townships. They are part of a project through the Portland, Ore.-based PPM Atlantic Renewable Energy Corp. called the South Chestnut Windpower Project.

Attorney Daniel Rullo, representing the corporation, asked the board to consider special exceptions for each of the 12 windmills, which all would be located on land zoned A-1, agricultural/rural.

The hearing was continued because the seven or eight people in attendance did not get to present their views on the windmills. Additionally, zoning hearing board solicitor Ewing Newcomer said the board needed additional information on some of Rullo’s other requests regarding the windmills. The hearing will reconvene at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Gary Verkleeren, the PPM project manager for the proposed windmills, three would be located on the property of Coastal Lumber, one on land owned by Ray and Carol Fields, one on property owned by Nolan Sutton and seven on property owned by Neil Brown.

Samuel Enfield, development director of PPM’s mid-Atlantic region, said the project would produce enough power to meet the electricity needs of 17,500 homes.

Enfield testified that the windmills produce “zero air pollution, zero waste disposal” and are environmentally clean.

Rullo said the entire project, which includes proposed sites in Wharton Township, includes 20 to 25 windmills. The Wharton sites were not included because the township has its own zoning hearing board that will consider PPM’s requests.

Earlier this week, Wharton Township supervisors authorized their solicitor to prepare an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would include restrictions on construction of the windmills.

The company wants to build six windmills in the Devies Mountain area of the township. PPM Energy also owns windmills that have been operating for several years in Mill Run and in Somerset County.

Among the things Rullo asked the board to consider in relation to the 12 windmills in Georges and Springhill townships were:

– Waiving the 200-foot height limit for the base of the windmills. Each of the windmill bases is about 262 feet high, which Enfield said was an industry standard. With the blades included, he said that the entire height is about 406 feet.

– Not requiring lights for airplanes on each of the windmills. Enfield testified that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted a study and approved that only turbines within one-half mile of one another need lights.

He said those lights would flash simultaneously to try and minimize the light to the neighbors. Enfield estimated that, including the proposed Wharton Township turbines, the FAA would only require between 11 and 13 of them be lit.

– Waiving the zoning code’s requirement of a $10,000 bond. Each property owner has signed leases agreeing to the turbine construction, Rullo said. Inclusive in those leases are clauses that allow for the dismantling of the windmills.

– Because there is a long lead-time on actual turbine construction, Rullo asked the board to consider extending the existing one-year limitation for a special exception. He indicated that there are currently more of these types of projects being designed than turbines being built to use.

Newcomer asked him to provide any legal authority that would allow the zoning hearing board to do that.

Additionally, board member Mark Rafail asked Rullo to provide the board with specific information as to how far from adjacent property lines each windmill would be, the acreage of the property upon which each would be placed and a copy of the FAA regulations governing lighting.

In other zoning hearing board matters, three hearings regarding requests for either special exceptions or variances for drill sites for natural gas wells and related equipment in Georges and German townships were continued. Those hearings will be rescheduled and re-advertised.

By Jennifer Harr


21 June 2007