HARRISBURG – Some natural resources used to produce electricity, such as oil and coal, often get a bad rap in the news media. Middle Eastern countries control a lot of the world’s oil, and burning coal can sometimes lead to harmful emissions that pollute air and water.
Wind power, on the other hand, is seen as a clean, abundant and free source of energy that gets good publicity.
But wind power has recently come under attack by groups that say it will ruin undeveloped areas and threaten wildlife.
Two dozen residents from Somerset, Bedford and other Pennsylvania counties through which the Allegheny Mountains pass came to the Capitol yesterday to oppose the construction of dozens of 400-foot-tall wind turbines in pristine, undeveloped areas.
Opponents claim the industrial turbines could lead to the deforestation of mountaintops and the killing of bats, eagles and hawks, and could spoil scenic mountaintop views and fishing streams that attract tourists, hunters and nature lovers.
The unhappy groups had names such as Save Our Allegheny Ridges, Save God’s Country, the Susquehanna Watergap Coalition and Save Shaffer Mountain (in Somerset County).
Joe Cominsky said he fears Shaffer Mountain near his Somerset County home could be marred by at least two dozen giant wind turbines proposed by Gamesa Co., a Spanish wind energy company that Gov. Ed Rendell was happy to bring to Pennsylvania last year to increase the state’s ability to harness the wind.
“This Shaffer Mountain project is ill-conceived,” said Mr. Cominsky, who added that Gamesa had offered him $5,000 per year per turbine to build on his property, but he refused.
“This is pristine wilderness. We have valuable trout streams,” he said. “I am not against wind energy per se, but I am against improper siting” of large industrial turbines.
He said about 800 people turned out at a hearing late last month to protest the turbines planned for Shaffer Mountain. Many were upset with Mr. Rendell and Kathleen McGinty, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, for supporting Gamesa, he said.
Also speaking out against ridge-top wind turbines were Mike Jackson of Bedford County and Terry Doran, a Pittsburgh educator who plans to retire in rural Central City, Somerset County.
Mr. Jackson said 20 large wind turbines have been proposed for Evitts Mountain near his home.
“A majority of residents are opposed to wind development on the mountain,” he said.
Mr. Doran said an Irish wind energy developer named Airtricity has plans for at least 37 turbines on land leased from a sportsmen’s club and an all-terrain vehicle track near Central City.
“We ask that the Pennsylvania legislators … prevent wind development on the ridge tops of the Allegheny Mountains,” he said. The tops of mountains are chosen as locations for the turbines because that’s usually where the wind blows the strongest, but critics fear many trees will be cut down, creating an unsightly vista.
Mr. Doran said the wind turbines visible to drivers along the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Somerset “are the little guys,” only about 260 feet high, far smaller than the new ones that are being proposed.
Other people protesting construction of wind turbines on mountain ridges were from Fayette, Dauphin, Tioga, Lycoming and Potter counties.
The opposition from citizens groups follows a statement last week by the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, which said wind turbines must be “properly sited” or they could destroy birds and bats. The nonprofit survey group didn’t see wind energy development as suitable on many state-owned lands “where natural resource conservation is a major goal,” especially land owned by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
John Hanger, the head of PennFuture, an environmental group which supports the growth of wind power, said he was distressed to hear the criticism. He urged state legislators, who began a special session yesterday on how the state can develop alternate forms of energy, to support wind power.
He said it’s far less environmentally damaging than coal as a way to produce electricity and not controlled by foreign power brokers.
“Wind power is clean and produces zero water or air pollution,” he said, adding that Denmark gets about 20 percent of its electricity from wind while Pennsylvania gets only 1 percent now.
“If we are to build an energy future for Pennsylvania, we must take advantage of all resources, especially renewable energy such as wind,” he said. “We cannot let our need for clean and affordable energy be blocked by a search for a mythical perfect technology.”
September 18, 2007
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-4254.
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