A new organization dedicated to changing the way wind turbine facilities are sited in the area is looking to work the legislative side.
Sensible Wind Solutions, a small group, was created out of the rising public sentiment against the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm LLC., which is looking to build 30 turbines along the Allegheny Front through Gamesa Energy USA.
Dr. Thomas Dick, founder of the Allegheny Plateau Audubon, has been closely involved with the group which is gathering scientists and watershed experts for their efforts.
“There’s kind of a gold rush going on, but it’s a wind rush. We need to get lawmakers to come up with guidelines before it runs right through the state with no consideration on siting,” he said.
The Audubon founder and Allegheny Hawk Watch patriarch said he became involved he realized how few regulations local and state government had for placing wind turbines,
In Somerset County, for example, turbine ordinances dictate primarily how far away from property lines and occupied structures turbine can be built.
Environmental considerations are only addressed through the state Department of Environmental protection and other wildlife agencies like the state Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission have reduced regulatory authority, relying on the DEP for final permitting.
That set up is troubling to Dick and others involved with the new group. “Because funding has been reduced they rely on voluntary monitoring, which is like not having regulation at all. It’s the perfect storm for pushing them through,” he said.
An example of the voluntary monitoring process can be seen in the recent development agreement the game commission entered into with 12 wind energy companies this year.
On April 18, 2007, the commission signed a cooperative, voluntary agreement with the companies that was supposed to avoid and minimize adverse impacts the development of wind energy may have on the state’s wildlife resources.
The companies pay for pre- and post-construction environmental studies in exchange for fast-tracked approval of the projects.
That deal was brokered with substantial input from wind energy industry representatives and assistance from the Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Collaborative (PWWC), and in effect streamlines the permitting process by mandating on-going studies for permitted and soon-to-be permitted projects.
What Dick and other Sensible Wind Solutions members like Allegheny Front property owner Jack Buchan want to see are economic incentives given to wind companies that site their projects on already impacted areas like strip mines.
While wind developers maintain environmental concerns are in the forefront of their planning, Dick says that one bad project could turn the public against wind development across the state.
He cited the Shaffer Mountain project as a potential disaster for not only wildlife, but public relations.
“I know they’re going to regret this. The mortality (bird and bat kills) is going to make people much more anti-wind,” he said.
Gamesa officials have said that a number of bird and bat studies have already been performed on the site, and project developer Tim Vought has said they are ongoing. “We’re confident our project is going to have a minimal impact,” he said. Gamesa has already moved the location of several turbines back further from the crest of the mountain as a result of those studies, he said.
But Dick said that the ongoing permitting battle for the project, which also contains a state designated exceptional value trout stream, is why legislators need to become more involved.
“We know they are going to be built. If they could be sited in the proper locations, then we wouldn’t be here. We need to find a common ground.”
By Dan DiPaolo
28 September 2007
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