The owner of Laurel Caverns told the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board Wednesday that if a special exception is approved to allow windmills to be constructed in Georges and Springhill townships, it could result in the site of the most killings of bats in the United States.
David Cale said the site holds that potential, although he acknowledged under questioning that it is unknown if that actually would occur. The largest measured annual bat kill was in 2003 when 2,000 bats were killed at a windmill site in West Virginia.
“Bats are an important part of the ecological balance of nature,” Cale said.
Cale’s comments were made during testimony about the planned South Chestnut Windpower Project, which includes the proposed construction of a total of 24 wind-powered turbines in Georges, Springhill and Wharton townships.
The windmills are part of a project through the Portland, Ore.-based PPM Atlantic Renewable Energy Corp.
In prior testimony, attorney Daniel Rullo, representing the corporation, asked the board to consider special exceptions for each of the 11 windmills, which all would be located on land zoned A-1, agricultural/rural. The 13 remaining windmills, located in Wharton Township, are not being considered by the zoning board because Wharton Township has its own zoning.
The windmills harness the wind for electricity.
Samuel Enfield, development director of PPM’s mid-Atlantic region, previously said the project includes 3 1/2 miles along Chestnut Ridge on elevations between 2,400 and 2,760 feet on private property. He said the elevations in the area are the highest in the state, which makes the site a good fit for windmills.
The towers are similar to ones built in Mill Run in 2001, but are 12 feet higher at 262 feet. The blades are 145 feet long, for a total height of 406 feet. The zoning ordinance allows 250-foot towers. PPM also is requesting several variance requests for setbacks to be less than 262 feet.
Enfield previously said although the turbines may have a significant impact on bats, most of the bats are migrating, and steps can be taken to lessen the impact, such as putting a deterrent on the turbines to ward away the bats.
Cale also spoke about the potential for “ice throw” of 425 feet, and pointed out that the towers can be seen from miles away and they would impact the view.
Addressing the potential “ice throw,” Rullo pointed out that there is nothing in the plans for any occupied structure or road to be within 425 feet of any of the turbines, adding that ice throw hasn’t been known to occur.
He also said it is a bit dramatic to say the windmills could lead to the biggest bat kill.
When Mark Ickis of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau spoke about concerns about having 24 windmills impacting the view, Rullo said it is in the eye of the beholder whether or not windmills have a negative impact.
Enfield pointed out that Tucker County, W.Va., tourism literature features a photograph of a wind turbine on it.
Donna Holdorf, executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor, testified that the windmills would have a significant and negative impact on the scenic beauty of the county, and asked the board to deny the request.
Although Cale said that bats migrate along ridges, Enfield said bat migrating is poorly understood, adding that most bats killed are migrating bats. He said there are 1,500 bats in Laurel Caverns.
Cale said three populations of bats live and travel through the area, including cave-hibernating bats, local bats and migrating bats. None of the three populations include endangered species, which are protected by law.
Although PPM has worked to test a bat-deterrent device in New York, the device has not yet been implemented on any turbines. Enfield also said that after the bat kill in 2003, follow-up tests regarding the number of bat kills have not be conducted.
Although Holdorf said property values would decrease, Enfield said a study on the impact of windmills on property values was inconclusive.
Heather Sage of Penn Future testified that wind energy is vital to the future of the state, which generated no air pollution.
Because there were numerous people in attendance who did not get to testify at the hearing, the board continued the hearing until 10 a.m. Jan. 30, 2008, when testimony in the matter is expected to conclude. After testimony concludes, the board will have 45 days to make a decision on the matter.
By Amy Zalar
20 December 2007
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