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Wind-farm opponents rally at Capitol

A group fighting the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm in Somerset and Bedford counties rallied Monday in the state Capitol for more-aggressive regulation of wind-energy companies.

Laura Jackson, chairwoman of Save Our Allegheny Ridges, joined concerned citizens from nine counties, including Somerset, in Harrisburg to urge legislators to pass siting regulations for turbines. No state or federal guidelines are in place regarding where turbines can be located.

The group of about 15 SOAR members met with legislators including Rep. John Eichelberger, R-Blair County, who Jackson said was sympathetic to their cause and offered his advice. She gave no details.

“Now it’s time to sit down and reflect on the information we received today and form a strategy to implement,” said Jackson, of Bedford County. “We hope it will result in legislation.”

Monday was the first day of a special legislative session Gov. Ed Rendell called to review the state’s energy policies and goals, said Neil Weaver, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.

Regulations for turbine siting will not be included in the talks, he added.

“That is not part of the energy program,” Weaver said. “That is more of an individual municipality decision.”

Gamesa – which operates a factory in Ebensburg – will monitor the session closely, said Tim Vought, project manager for the company’s proposed Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm.

“We are very much in favor of a policy that supports our industry,” he said.

Opponents to “improper” turbine siting say the governor’s office is pushing wind energy without regard to consequences to wildlife and the quality of life.

But at an August meeting in Cairnbrook, Gamesa reps, a geotechnical engineer, an ecologist and a bat biologist gave a half-hour presentation on the company’s plans to avoid hurting the ecology.

Mike Byle, an engineer with Tetra Tech EC Inc., said the project should have no wetlands impact – and should improve existing roads, drainage patterns and base flow to creeks and increase their quality.

Opponents have contended turbines could harm Piney Run and Clear Shade Creek, two of 28 “exceptional value” trout streams in the state.

SOAR also met Monday with several other groups that are concerned about turbine locations, Jackson said.

“Most of the people are not opposed to wind energy if it’s in the correct location,” she said.

Somerset County was the first in the state to pass a windmill ordinance, but activists say the measure needs to be more stringent.

After the siting, DEP must issue stormwater management and erosion permits.

September 18, 2007

The Tribune-Democrat

Staff writer Patrick Buchnowski contributed to this story.