Butler Township supervisors are reviewing an ordinance to regulate wind turbines as an international company seeks permission to construct a wind farm along the ridge of Nescopeck Mountain.
Gamesa USA, which has offices in Philadelphia, submitted an application to the township zoning hearing board to construct a 197-foot aluminum tower to monitor the wind atop the mountain in Butler. The company also seeks a test site in Hollenback Township, and has been rebuffed in its efforts to build a tower to test the wind in Sugarloaf Township.
Through the PJM Interconnection, the wholesale electricity grid serving all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia, Gamesa intends to install up to 60 wind turbines.
While Gamesa looks at sites in several townships, Butler supervisors are considering an ordinance for their township that is based on a model from state environmental departments.
During a public hearing about the ordinance on Wednesday, Marguerite Woelfel, a valley resident who used to sell wind turbines in California, said the ordinance tilted slightly in favor in companies that helped draft it. She suggested sharpening language in the ordinance, which the supervisors tabled so they can study her recommendations.
The ordinance requires turbines to be a certain distance – five times the hub height of the machine – from occupied buildings.
Woelfel suggested keeping turbines that far from property lines. Otherwise, owners might be unable to build homes in the future on sections of the property nearest the wind farm without encountering noise or other disruptions.
The ordinance says wind-farm operators must make “reasonable efforts” to minimize shadow flicker and take “all necessary measures” to avoid disruption of radio, telephone or television signals. Woelfel said the supervisors might want to define reasonable efforts and necessary measures.
The supervisors, she said, might want the ordinance to regulate a farmer who wants one windmill differently from a wind farm with dozens of turbines, each costing $1 million and standing 250 feet tall.
Asked by Supervisor Robert Shelhamer if she favored or opposed wind turbines, Woelfel said she thinks the machines have their place. But she believes they are overrated as a way to break America’s dependence on foreign oil because of their cost and life expectancy, which is 25 years.
The supervisors decided to charge a permit fee of $10 per lineal foot for wind turbines. Also, the ordinance requires companies to post bonds ensuring that they will decommission turbines, and restore roads and installation sites to prior condition.
In Waymart, Wayne County, Florida Power and Light posted a bond to cover the removal of 43 turbines it installed four years ago, Lois Terrel, secretary for Clinton Township, one of two townships hosting the wind farm, said.
“They made an agreement with the wind farm. It’s worked out,” she said.
Terrel said the turbines rise from land rented from several owners in Clinton and Canaan townships.
Some neighbors complained about noise from the turbines and one hired a lawyer.
Interference with television reception, however, seems to be a more common complaint, she said.
The complaints come from viewers whose antennas pull in television signals from the airwaves, not satellites.
Complaints persist even though Florida Power and Light put up new antennas on sites expected to provide better reception.
Former Hazleton Mayor John Quigley is chairman of the Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Collaborative and applauded Butler for tweaking the model ordinance.
“Having a municipality looking at the ordinance is always a good thing,” said Quigley, now the director of legislation and strategic initiatives for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which had input into the model ordinance.
Quigley said instances of shadow flicker and signal disruption from wind turbines are rare.
The coalition of which he is chairman also has spent the past two years studying ways to reduce the risk that turbines pose to birds and bats.
“The big unknown is bats,” said Quigley, referring to incidents in which significant numbers of bats died at turbines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
“It’s an ongoing effort. Nobody suggests that we’ve figured it all out,” he said. “It’s something the commonwealth and industry has to stay with.”
In Butler Township, Gamesa USA wants to install a tower that will be 1 foot in diameter and supported by guy wires, said Sharon Barr of Gamesa, which makes wind turbines and constructs and operates wind farms.
Information gathered about the wind from the monitors will then be sent via wireless phone to the company’s office, she said.
The company has five-year options from a number of property owners, Barr said, and hopes to work through permitting and wind testing during that time.
Tom McLaughlin owns the property where the monitoring equipment would be installed on a 200-by-200-foot tract, said Donald Karpovich, zoning solicitor for Butler.
Gamesa does have an option on the tract, according to the paperwork submitted to the township, he said, and could lease the land for more than 20 years.
Meteorological maps indicate that Nescopeck Mountain may have sufficient winds to support a wind farm, Barr said, but the company wants at least a year’s worth of data before making a decision, as the amount of wind varies season to season.
After getting turned down for a test tower in Sugarloaf, Gamesa applied in Hollenback, as the property being considered straddles both municipalities, Barr said.
She hopes that the community will be receptive to its plans. Barr also noted that it’s very early in the development, and much more work lies ahead before wind turbines could be installed.
The initial land and project feasibility work takes six to nine months, while engineering and design could take another four to six months, when permitting takes place. After two years, the project should be ready to begin construction, which takes another six to nine months.
A typical wind farm has 50 turbines, according to literature provided by Gamesa. The company applied for a maximum of 60 turbines along the Nescopeck Mountain.
Although Gamesa applied to the PJM Interconnection, the application doesn’t mean all 60 turbines would be installed, as the company hasn’t secured all of the land that would be needed, she said. The number could be less, Barr said, and zoning will also be a factor.
All of the turbines planned will be two megawatts each, she said. Each turbine stands about 255 feet at the hub and its three blades have a 285-foot diameter.
The hearing on the special exception request in Butler Township is scheduled Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
By Kent Jackson
and Kelly Monitz
16 September 2007