Potter County Planning Commission members took steps to regulate the construction of wind turbines in the county Tuesday night during a lengthy meeting.
After hearing arguments from supporters and critics of the wind energy industry, planning commission members passed an ordinance that would require that turbines be located a distance of at least seven times their height from adjacent properties.
In the case of the approximately 80 turbines proposed by international energy giant AES Corp., in northern Potter County, each extending an estimated 415 feet in the air to the tip of the blade, the machines would have to be at least 2,900 feet from the nearest property line.
Setbacks were a major concern voiced by members of Save God’s Country, a citizens’ group formed to fight the location of an unregulated wind turbine plant in Ulysses and Hector townships.
Wind energy companies are also eying Hebron Township, north of Coudersport, and Homer and Eulalia townships, south of the borough, to build turbines that would generate electricity from the wind.
Planning commission members have wrestled with setbacks and other proposed regulations for several months. Starting in September and continuing on Tuesday, they approved a series of amendments to the county’s Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance to control wind energy facilities.
The commission will continue to tinker with the amendments at its Nov. 13 meeting before submitting the new ordinance to the Potter County Commissioners for adoption.
During Tuesday’s meeting, planning commission chairwoman Wanda Shirk repeated her contention that the agency needs to find middle ground.
“We do not want to over-regulate,” she insisted.
Opening the floor to public input, the planning commission heard from Tammy Perkins, a Fox Hill resident who said turbines are being targeted for property near her home.
“We urge you to protect the people who are going to be affected directly by these turbines,” Perkins said. “I am worried about the welfare of my family and about the impact this is going to have on our property values.”
Her concerns were echoed by another northern Potter County resident, Ivan Lehman, who said he is not opposed to wind energy as a concept.
“But I am against letting them be put in at the sacrifice of the adjoining landowners,” Lehman said. “It’s wrong not to protect the other people.”
Coudersport area resident Gary Buchsen countered the planning commission also has a duty to protect the rights of the property owner who might be able to benefit financially by leasing land for turbine construction.
Another Coudersport man, Stanley Goodwin, who owns land in the Dutch Hill area, said he has already moved forward with surveys and other steps to lease parts of his property for wind turbines.
“It’s going to mean a lot of money to me, and I’ll spend that money in this county,” Goodwin said.
Joe and Marcia Lagrua of Eulalia Township, who had attending a speech by U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., the night before, said the planning commission should be wary of restricting alternative energy development.
“We need to develop other types of energy for the good of our country,” Joe Lagrua said. “As a landowner, I should have the right to do whatever I want.”
Planning commission members spoke of their duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of county residents. The motion to add the seven-to-one setback ratio to the ordinance passed by a 4-0 vote, with John Nordquist, Mitch DeLong, Rance Baxter and Bill Dean in favor.
Shirk did not cast a vote. Planning commission members Bill Hunter and Marshall Hamilton were absent.
After the meeting, members Save God’s Country expressed appreciation to the planning commission for adopting stricter setback requirements than originally drafted.
They said they’ll continue to press for stronger regulation of the wind energy industry, based on their concerns about potential damage to underground water resources, damaging health effects, noise pollution and other factors.
By Paul Heimel
9 October 2007
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