An Oregon-based company is weighing its options after a decision by Fayette County’s zoning hearing board earlier this week to deny a request for a special exception to construct 18 wind-powered turbines in Georges and Springhill.
PPM Atlantic Renewable Energy Corp. of Portland planned to use the windmills to produce electricity, part of a project called South Chestnut Ridge Windpower. The company has 10 windmills on Laurel Ridge, overlooking Mill Run.
Board members unanimously denied that request, board Chairman Jim Killinger said Friday, after doing their own research and hearing from numerous county residents opposed to the proposal.
PPM has 30 days to file an appeal with the county Court of Common Pleas, Killinger said.
“We’re just evaluating what those options are,” said Paul Copleman, communications manager for PPM. “Obviously we’ve put time and effort into the project so far. We feel it’s a good site for the project.”
Killinger said public opposition voiced at several hearings included concerns about wildlife, the view and property values.
“People didn’t want them next to their property,” Killinger said.
In addition, he said, the board’s denial was based on height proposals for the towers. The zoning ordinance restricts tower height to 250 feet, while PPM’s towers would have reached 262 feet.
The windmills were to be located on land zoned A-1, agricultural/rural.
Killinger called the decision one of the most difficult the board has ever reached.
“We did a lot of research on other court decisions and case law,” he said. “We went with a lot of testimony from the feelings of Fayette County residents. The main thing we considered was that the people of Fayette County were strongly against it, at least the ones that testified.”
A few people who testified in favor of the project worked for coal companies and thought the windmills would be a cleaner source of energy than power plants, Killinger said.
David Cale, owner of Laurel Caverns, had expressed concerns about the proposed windmills’ effects on the area’s bats. Laurel Caverns is home to about 1,800 bats, he said yesterday.
“Wind flow in this state is so poor that only the crests of our highest ridges have enough wind flow to make a wind energy site economically feasible. Unfortunately, birds, bats and even insects have used these same ridge lines as their ‘interstate highways’ for migrations,” he said in a statement.
Migrating bats can fly into windmills and be killed by the blade tips, Cale said.
A reduction in their number would create a rise in mosquito and moth populations and increase reliance on pesticides, he said.
“We consider ourselves the caretakers of Fayette County,” Killinger said. “We want to make sure future generations can enjoy what we have here today without scarring the landscape and the mountains.
“I know we won’t make everybody happy with our decision. However, we feel the right decision has been made in the interest of people who live here and visit here,” Killinger said.
By Mary Pickels
23 February 2008
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