Brent Alderfer, president of Pennsylvania-based Iberdrola subsidiary Community Energy, tells a story of a group of people in the Atlantic City area who were concerned about the construction of a wind farm. Rather than simply answering their questions, Alderfer took them on an eight-hour drive west to Pennsylvania’s Somerset County where they could see real wind turbines in action. Noise was a major concern for this particular group, but one gentleman, standing next to a wind turbine, told Alderfer, “My air conditioner makes more noise than this.”
Thus, one myth was dispelled.
In the battle over the health of our environment, some people want clean, sustainable power sources, while others are concerned about the effect wind farms will have on wildlife, aesthetics and the calm of a rural community. The opposition to wind farms is often vocal and proactive during the planning and discussion stages, but once the projects are in place, the opposition turns to quiet acceptance.
Julie Downs, director of the Center for Risk Perception and Communication at Carnegie Mellon University, says many who oppose wind farms are probably worried about the unknown.
“It’s difficult to imagine what you don’t know about,” she says. However, she adds, the opposition’s concerns should be respected. “There’s nothing wrong with having negative feelings about something that will change the landscape.” New technology, she also says, heightens peoples’ concerns, and many see it as a risk rather than looking at the possible benefits.
Changes in the landscape and other concerns are helping to fuel the argument against a proposed wind power project on Peter’s Mountain, outside of Harrisburg, Pa.
Wind farms are nothing new for Pennsylvania. Currently, there are at least seven wind farms across the state, with more prepared to begin operation in the coming months. Pennsylvania is the top wind-energy-producing state east of the Mississippi. Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., is a major proponent of wind energy in a state known for its coal production. In addition to the wind farms, Rendell has enticed international wind energy companies to set up U.S. operations within the commonwealth.
What makes the Peter’s Mountain case different from other wind farms in Pennsylvania is ownership of the land. It is the first proposal in the state for a farm on public, rather than privately owned, land. Wind turbines with a generating capacity of up to 30 MW would be placed on a mountain ridge near the DeHart Reservoir, which supplies water for Harrisburg. The land is governed by the Harrisburg Authority.
Opponents, however, are fighting the proposal. The proposed site is located in pristine woodlands on the edge of the urban south-central part of the state, adjacent to state game lands and prime hunting and fishing locations. The Appalachian Trail is nearby. According to the opposition group Stop Turbines on Peter’s Mountain, opponents fear a drop in property values, increases in bird mortality rates and pollution of the watershed for the DeHart Reservoir from the wind facility. A primary concern, however, is how the project will change the look of the mountain. The facility would affect the ridge top and the side of the mountain, as transmission lines and stations will have to be constructed. In addition, the state’s Environmental Protection Agency reports that, because this area is the largest roadless tract in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, roads will have to be constructed and trees will need to be removed to make room for the wind turbines.
Initially, Harrisburg planned to construct and own the turbines. However, costs are playing a more important role in the wind farm’s future than its opponents. The city recently decided its budget could not afford the estimated $45 million needed for construction. Rather than scrap the project, the city is entertaining offers from private wind developers to lease the land from the city for 20 years.
John Hanger, president of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, which is headquartered in Harrisburg, thinks the wind farm would make a good neighbor in the long run. The farms do bring in additional income and jobs to communities.
“Capturing wind energy isn’t a perfect Solution,” he says, “but it is one of the friendliest methods,”
Mike Pasqualetti, professor in Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences, agrees. In Pennsylvania, the prominent options for making electricity are coal-based plants, nuclear power or wind turbines. Pasqualetti has studied the reactions of residents who live in areas where wind farms were built, finding that most people do not have strong opinions in support of or against wind energy development.
“The vocal minority will make noise,” he says, “but most people aren’t that concerned.”
Residents, he adds, will object to just about anything that means change, but once the wind farms are constructed, they see that steps can be taken to minimize trauma to the environment, and opposition moves from speculation to realization.
Sue Marquette Poremba
North American Windpower
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