Some of what draws visitors and dollars to the Susquehanna might have an ‘inherent conflict’ with commercial wind energy.
Paul Kautz Jr. comes to the Lake Clarke area of the Susquehanna River regularly during the summer, sometimes with his boat, and fishes for catfish.
But the retiree from Millersville took shelter from the hot sun on a recent day along the York County shoreline, right across from Lancaster County shoreline where a wind turbine project is in the works.
Kautz, who wasn’t aware of the project previously, isn’t worried about his view changing.
“Hey, if they want to save money for electricity, let them,” he said.
The project calls for PPL Renewable Energy to install two wind turbines on the point’s Frey Farm Landfill at Turkey Point, owned by the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority.
Construction is expected to begin early this fall across from the southern end of the Long Level area of Lower Windsor Township.
A neighbor on the hill, Turkey Hill Dairy, is buying the electricity, PPL said. It will be enough to power about 25 percent of its operations and help make 6 million gallons of ice cream a year, PPL said.
Lissette Santana, spokeswoman for PPL Renewable Energy, said the project came about as PPL began looking at expanding alternative energy options.
PPL already partners on a landfill gas energy project with the authority. Methane builds up in landfills, and the waste authority captures that gas to power a PPL power plant on the site.
The windy point on the authority’s property made wind energy logical, she said.
‘The other side’
On the York County side, the side with the view framed by the flowing water and blue sky, the riverbank is developed with vacation rentals, a yacht club and eco-tourism thriving across or just north from the scenic point.
Some worry here and elsewhere about the effects on the recovering bald eagles and scores of other bird species using the flyway near the point, and to a lesser extent whether it might hamper the view.
For many believers in the power of green, there remains an internal conflict.
Steve Winand, co-owner of outdoors outfitter Shanks Mare in Lower Windsor Township, called the turbine construction on the site a “tough one” because it seems to pit one environmental issue against another.
He is for wind energy from an environmental standpoint, and although no one wants the view to change, he would be a little hypocritical for him to oppose turbines just because they show up within his view.
At the same time, he understands the worry about birds being harmed by the towering turbines. And the migration of birds, including bald eagles, is one of the things that draws visitors to the area and his business.
Santana said project developers have worked with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to reduce the project’s impact on the area’s birds and have studied fall and spring migration patterns.
Already, they have changed the project from four turbines to two and have changed the location a bit.
There are other measures to deter birds, including strobe lights and workers cutting grass very short on landfill property, said Jim Warner, chief executive officer for the authority.
Short grass means prey animals won’t be as likely to be near the turbines, so birds of prey won’t be as likely to hunt there.
It is actually difficult to put wind turbines on land where they don’t interfere with bird flyways, said Phil Wallis, executive director of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society.
The steady winds needed to make wind energy economically viable and profitable are the same that birds use to help keep them flying, creating an “inherent conflict” between the two interests.
Still, it’s the official position of Audubon to support wind energy – just not this project, because it is not “sited” properly, Wallis said.
And even though it was moved a bit from original plans, Wallis said, it still seems in a position to cause problems. He said offshore sites are often better to help solve this problem.
The Pennsylvania Audubon Society filed a formal protest letter with the Department of Energy, which approved grant money for the project. Audubon said the approval process is too short to allow for adequate public input.
PPL Corp. said it followed proper proceedures.
As for whether the turbines might look ugly, Wallis said Audubon has no opinion.
More people ask his business about the landfill, the “big brown lump” across the way, than they do about the impending wind turbine construction, Winand said.
Winand said the landfill has been there as long as his 13-year-old business has had a view of the river. He’s still not sure how it got on such a scenic point.
Warner said landfill officials aren’t happy about the brown blob either. He said workers needed to excavate recently at the landfill, and there was nowhere to go with the dirt except there.
But, he said the area should green up over the next few years; it won’t look like that for the life of the landfill.
Wrightsville-area artist Rob Evans has painted the river, and one of his works titled “Migration” is part of the “Visions of the Susquehanna” art collection.
Evans is its independent curator of the collection, and “Migration” shows birds filling the sky – over a bridge spanning the Susquehanna.
He said he believes some development like turbines can exist with nature, if it’s done correctly.
Evans said he is also a proponent of wind power, but it has to be done in the best possible way to keep areas scenic.
“For example, you wouldn’t put them on top of Mount Rushmore,” he said.
What he took issue with the most is the way the approval processes for such projects are structured. The official process took place on the Lancaster County side of the river, where it’s being built.
However, the scenic view is visible from the York County side. With dialog, he believes, there are ways to make almost everybody happy.
“I think everybody has good intentions,” Evans said.
Warner, CEO of the authority, said he supports maintaining natural beauty of the area.
Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area, a local nonprofit dedicated to retaining and growing the natural value of the region, recently received an annual financial commitment of about $55,000 per year from the authority.
Warner is also one of the group’s board members.
He said he hopes the landfill site will help add to the eco-tourism potential of the lower Susquehanna region by attracting people who want to see eagles and green energy being produced.
With the landfill gas and wind projects in place or under way, and with a solar project planned, he said it could be a sort of “alternative energy park” to attract visitors.
And, he said the authority is committed to doing whatever it can to keep the scenic and naturally occuring attractions healthy.
“Whatever they asked us to do, we did it,” Warner said. “We are very sensitive to the bird issue.”
According to the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, which owns the landfill on the east side of the river, the two wind turbines planned for construction will be able to generate about 25 percent of the electricity it needs for its neighbor, Turkey Hill Dairy.
The turbines will be visible from the York County side of the river.
Such projects are being heavily advocated by the federal and state governments.
The $9.5 million project expects about $4 million in government grants and tax credits, according to the authority. Federal stimulus money in recent years has heavily targeted such projects in recent years.
The waste authority is partnering with electric utility PPL Corp. for the project. Utilities are being required by the state to generate a certain percentage of their electricity by alternative means.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many alternative energy projects across the country are meeting with local opposition.
The chamber maintains a website called Project No Project, pnp.uschamber.com, which tracks energy projects meeting opposition across the country for various reasons.
OTHER LOCAL PROJECTS
Southcentral Pennsylvania seems to be a booming hub for alternative energy of all sorts. Some local alternative energy projects, large and small, are already completed or under way. A few include:
· A commercial-size wind turbine helping to offset the electricity bills of the Hilltop Country Barn store in Heidelberg Township. The $80,000 setup began producing electricity this year to sell into the grid.
· A roughly $4.3 million solar array project at Morningstar Marketplace in Jackson Township, which is under development. The project received necessary local approvals this year.
· A $12.8 million solar array project for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare LP at its facility in East Manchester Township. The project has received $1 million solar energy program grant for a 3-megawatt rooftop array.
· A roughly $440 million doubling of hydroelectric generation capacity at PPL Corp.’s Holtwood Dam in southern Lancaster County. Also, West Manchester Township’s Voith Hydro has been contracted to make equipment for the project.
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