Bethlehem City Council on Tuesday gave the green light to two environmental enterprises designed to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the land surrounding the city’s water supply.
One would allow corporate polluters to buy “carbon credits” from the Bethlehem Authority’s 21,000-acre watershed, spanning Monroe and Carbon counties, to offset their carbon footprints. The other enterprise calls for wind turbines to dot the mountain ridges and harness clean energy.
Councilwoman Karen Dolan described the projects as “forward-thinking” and a great way to make money while helping to be good stewards of the environment.
“I couldn’t support this more strenuously,” she said.
The carbon credit project, which council backed in a resolution 7-0, involves a 60-year deal that prevents the city’s water agency from developing most of its watershed. In return, the Nature Conservancy – the international nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the environment – will inventory the forest and have it certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
That certification enables timber to be sold at a higher price and allows the water agency – the Bethlehem Authority – to sell carbon credits on the Carbon Credit Exchange in Chicago. That’s where corporate polluters around the globe buy credits to offset the carbon they release into the environment. Seventy percent of those sales would go to the authority, resulting in $500,000 to $1 million over the next decade.
The turbine venture would be more profitable, if it works out, but it will likely take more time until the authority sees some green. Under that deal, a wind energy company would finance and build 27 turbines along ridges in Penn Forest Township, Carbon County. Those turbines would generate enough energy to bring the authority an estimated $400,000 a year, or $14 million over 25 years.
Council voted 7-0 to allow the wind energy companies to begin testing the ridges to see if there’s enough wind there. If conditions are acceptable, the companies would have to come back with a more detailed agreement.
Councilman David DiGiacinto said he would like regular updates as the testing progresses.
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