MANSFIELD – The wind blows fickle up on Armenia Mountain, officials at AES have found out, requiring officials to increase the number of turbines needed to produce the same amount of electricity in a proposed wind farm spanning 9,000 acres across the top of the mountain range bordering northeastern state forest lands.
The number of turbines needed to produce 150 megawatts of electricity has grown from 79 to 98 following ongoing “wind analysis,” said Charlie Falter, AES managing director.
The cost to construct them also has grown – to $270 million, said project manager Bob White.
With construction to begin next spring, pending all necessary approvals, studies either have been done or are ongoing to determine the turbines’ impact of noise, “shadow flicker” from blades turning, effect on wildlife and neighboring property values.
Few showed up at Mansfield University’s Allen Hall Tuesday night to hear about the project after officials say they mailed out 4,500 postcards to area residents who would be most affected by the project.
The seeming lack of interest is something that speaks volumes to company officials, despite the vocal dozen or so opponents who have attended every meeting, White said.
“What we’ve been hearing from local officials is that those who have called them have been overwhelmingly in support of it,” White said following the two-hour meeting.
“We have to do something,” he added, noting that Gov. Ed Rendell has suggested the state should take the lead in reducing dependence on foreign oil.
But in the face of opposition, in its third public hearing to discuss the project, the wind energy company pulled out all the stops to try to convince locals that the project is not only necessary, but can be a boon to the area in the form of $225,000 in annual property taxes it will pay, the money it will pay to landowners to lease their property and the infusion of new jobs and new roads.
But the majority of the three dozen or so people who attended Tuesday’s meeting weren’t buying it.
Most of them had attended previous meetings and during the question and answer period following the presentation, some queried the officials about studies they were touting which stated that the farms in other parts of the state or country have had no effect on neighboring property values.
“That study you used on property values used a protocol designed to get the results they wanted,” one man, who did not identify himself, said.
White denied that the studies were biased in favor of the wind energy companies.
“These are peer reviewed reports,” he said.
“If you live right across the road from 75 whirling blades, lights blinking all hours of the day and night, you’d have to be a fool to think your property values won’t be affected,” the man said.
Steve Priset of Little Marsh said he was “in the middle” as far as the project is concerned.
“Overdevelopment is always bad, but I’m for property rights. By saying you can’t have them, you are denying the property owner his rights to have them. We also need energy and we need to get away from dependence on foreign oil,” he said.
Kevin and Nicole Gluszczak of Covington said they will have a fairly close view of at least one of the turbines, something which concerns them.
“We would definitely see and hear them from our house. We’re about a mile and a half from the closest one,” he said.
Others, such as the Piccolellas of Lycoming County, just over the county line near Liberty, said they are concerned about blades throwing ice chunks in winter and blade fragmentation, such as what happened in Ebensburg in March of this year near the Somerset County farm.
“Are you going to be responsible if a chunk of ice flies off one of the blades and goes through the windshield of a school bus, causing injuries to children?” Judi Piccollela asked White.
“I’m not aware of any instances where ice has been thrown,” White said, “the most you would feel if ice was coming off a blade would be like sleet,” he said, “but yes, we will carry liability insurance and we will be responsible for monitoring the blades 24 hours a day through our operating system,” he said.
“If it shows the blades are icing, we would send someone out to visually check it out to make sure it’s not icing,” he added.
By Cheryl R. Clarke
1 August 2007