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Wind turbines on Womelsdorf-Robesonia Joint Authority land?

A Northumberland County company that is hoping to build wind turbines on South Mountain in eastern Lebanon County is awaiting the approval of a water authority in Berks County.

The land is owned by the Womelsdorf-Robesonia Joint Authority, which is exploring whether to let Penn Wind, Sunbury, erect a tower to gauge the feasibility of harvesting wind energy there.

Penn Wind chief executive Justin R. Dunkelberger said his firm is interested in South Mountain for a simple reason: It’s windy.

A conceptual map shows 18 turbines as much as 200 feet tall in a line roughly parallel to Cocalico and Eagles Peak roads in Millcreek Township, just over the line from Berks.

But Dunkelberger said the company doesn’t know how many turbines it would build, exactly where they would be or even whether there is a market for the power.

The tower would help answer the first two questions. It would be equipped with devices to measure wind velocity, direction and other characteristics.

Penn Wind also would study the area’s wildlife with an eye toward assessing how turbines would affect it.

“We’ll be watching for raptors,” Dunkelberger said. “We’ll be monitoring bats.”

If all goes well, it would probably be at least three years before any turbines are erected, Dunkelberger said. The company would need a year to collect data from the tower and two years to win approval for the turbines.

Authority solicitor Jestyn G. Payne said the authority is just being asked to lease land to Penn Wind and wouldn’t have anything to do with running the turbines.

The solicitor said the board plans to discuss proposed lease terms in a closed-door session at its meeting tonight at 7 in Womelsdorf Borough Hall.

“There’s still a bunch of issues that need to be negotiated,” Payne said.

One is whether Penn Wind would cover the authority’s costs for researching the project if Penn Wind backs out.

But two authority members said the proposal sounds good.

“I think the technology is a promising thing,” Steven D. Bright said.

“I’d like to see it go through,” David Hartman said. “It’s lucrative for the water authority.”

Dunkelberger said Penn Wind is looking into using turbines on South Mountain that would produce 112 to 2 megawatts each.

One megawatt is enough to power 250 to 300 houses, he said.

Penn Wind has a wind-turbine facility in Northumberland that produces 13 megawatts, enough to power a small city, Dunkelberger said.

Some proposed wind-power projects nationwide, such as a plan to build 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound near Cape Cod, Mass., have faced opposition from neighbors.

Dunkelberger said most opposition to wind turbines concerns their appearance.

Hartman lives about a half-mile from where the proposed turbines could go.

He said opposition to wind turbines might wane over time.

“Everybody complained about cell towers, too,” he said. “Now you drive by and don’t even notice them.”

By Rebecca VanderMeulen

Reading Eagle

24 June 2008