How did Gamesa Corporation, a wind-energy company from Spain, find Shaffer Mountain, a small section of the Allegheny Front in Pennsylvania, which lies in Somerset and Bedford counties?
Although we do not know all the details, we do know in 2004, that Gov. Rendell and Kathleen McGinty, secretary of Department of Environmental Protection, enticed Gamesa to abandon plans to build in Texas, by promising Gamesa that it would receive millions of dollars in grants, loans, and tax credits, financed with taxpayers’ money.
Federal income tax shelters will allow Gamesa to avoid paying taxes owed and thereby recover two-thirds of the capital cost of each turbine – about $2 million each.
We also know that Gamesa has received tax-free status through 2018 by locating on land that is a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone. Even before Gamesa started construction in our state, the company had purchase agreements and letters of intent to sell 400 megawatts worth of wind-generated power to Pennsylvania utilities.
But how did Gamesa find Shaffer Mountain? It’s simple: Shaffer Mountain has wind.
Wind is what Gamesa needs, in order to maintain its position as one of the world’s top wind energy developers. Wind is touted as free, clean, and a renewable energy. Of course, we applaud wind as a great resource in an energy-hungry world – if it is sited correctly. But, capturing and taming the wind to produce electricity has a very high cost when environmental impacts are ignored. If wind turbines are built on Shaffer Mountain, they will show anyone who really looks that wind is not free, it is not clean, and it is not renewable.
Wind is not free: 110 acres of trees will be permanently removed. Yes, our mountains were clear-cut before, but the trees grew back. These trees won’t. Streams of exceptional value will be impacted by construction. Erosion and sedimentation will be managed by complying with DEP permits, but there will still be negative impacts on the streams. Long-term studies in the Allegheny Forest have shown that roads degrade water quality. Roads fragment forest, and Shaffer Mountain is part of one of the largest tracts of roadless forests that we have in our area. Small soil-dwelling animals that are required to create the very foundation of a healthy forest can not cross these roads.
Gamesa states that access roads will be 15 feet wide, but that is only the crown of the road. Trees will not be allowed to grow on top of the buried cables, which will no doubt stretch along the roads. The 60 foot-wide clearing for the roads will stay just that – a 60 foot-wide clearing.
The passion that soared from the audience as residents spoke at Gamesa’s Town Hall meeting on June 20 was really not about the pros and cons of wind, but it was all about the terrible price that Shaffer Mountain will have to pay if the wind is tamed.
Gamesa officials were there to placate the audience, trying to explain that the roads, the concrete pads, the electricity lines, and even the wind turbines themselves (please don’t call them windmills or wind farms – these are huge industrial power plants!), will not impact the streams.
The powerpoint presentation contained numerous statements that just didn’t stand up to scrutiny. One was a statement that Gamesa doesn’t do any blasting when building turbines. If that is true, then why was a blasting company hired for Gamesa’s Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm, just north of Shaffer Mountain? The blasting company had to blast into rock in order to create some of the 8 foot deep holes that are 52 feet across – the standard size for Gamesa’s projects. Now visualize 30 of these huge craters on Shaffer Mountain – near wetlands, near headwaters of pristine trout streams, or near groundwater recharge areas. Thousands of people depend on this area for drinking water. Any type of industrial construction will degrade the watershed.
Wind is not clean when it kills birds and bats. The Allegheny Front Hawk Watch is known worldwide for its golden eagle migration. Thousands of birds migrate each spring and fall along the Allegheny Front. It is a major flyway for hawks. It is so important that the Pennsylvania Game Commission wrote a letter of warning to Gamesa: “Locating a wind power facility right on the Allegheny Front escarpment will put migrating raptors, especially golden eagles, at a fairly high risk for injury and mortality due to the operation of wind turbines.” Did Gamesa move the 30 turbines farther west to less prominent migration areas? No – the warning is being ignored. Wind can’t be clean when turbine blades are splattered with blood. Gamesa is conducting yet more studies, and found that federally endangered Indiana bats fly over the Allegheny Front. But the wind project continues.
Wind really is not renewable – unless it is a small-scale windmill that supplies energy to someone off the grid. Gamesa’s turbines will send electricity (at a fairly low capacity rate) to the PJM grid. Since wind is variable and the electricity production is not constant, backup power generating plants will continue to run. Most of the reserve power sources are not renewable, so there will be appreciable amounts of carbon dioxide pollution, as well as consumption of fossil or nuclear fuel.
What we are really objecting to is the damage to a wonderfully healthy ecosystem – an ecosystem that is being traded in for an industrial development with 30 tall towers that stretch more than 400 feet. And yes, these towers will produce a strobe effect on sunny days – when the sun is low in the sky every morning and late afternoon.
We are fighting industrial development on Shaffer Mountain. Gamesa is just one of many wind developers in our area, and all of them want to turn our mountains into industrial power plant facilities. The developers will comply with the few regulations that Pennsylvania has, and they will get what they want – unless we unite to stop them.
Laura Jackson, Chairperson
25 June 2007
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