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Developer plans to build region's first large-scale wind farm  

Credit:  By VALERIE MYERS, Erie Times-News, www.goerie.com 5 May 2011 ~~

NORTH EAST – A Texas-based energy company plans to build the Erie region’s first large-scale wind farm.

Pioneer Green Energy, of Austin, Texas, is leasing property in North East Township to develop a wind farm that could encompass up to 7,000 acres of farmland south of Interstate 90.

Between 50 and 75 giant wind turbines would produce about 150 megawatts of electricity – or enough to power 45,000 homes, if plans are approved by local, state and federal governments, said Adam Cohen, vice president and co-founder of Pioneer Green Energy.

The wind farm would be located in an area roughly bounded by Interstate 90, Townline Road and the New York state line. Its actual boundaries will be determined by wind capacity and environmental studies, lease agreements, and connections to the existing power grid, Cohen said.

“We’d like to do as large a project as the studies dictate and as the town and community thinks is appropriate. If not, something smaller may make sense,” Cohen said.

The company chose North East Township for the project because of power lines and other electric infrastructure already in place and because of state green energy standards, Cohen said. Pennsylvania alternative energy standards enacted in 2004 require electric utility companies to supply 18 percent of their wattage from wind and other renewable sources by 2020.

Also, local farmland is particularly suited for a wind farm, Cohen said.

“The major reason we chose North East is a lot of the land is good, flat agricultural-type land where some of the old dairy farms have been struggling and shutting down. Farmers there can hold onto their land and not have to sell it. They can keep farming there with this extra income,” Cohen said.

Cohen would not say how much property owners are being paid for their land.

In Somerset County, a property owner farming land along the Pennsylvania Turnpike collects between $3,500 and $4,000 in annual royalties for each wind turbine on his dairy farm, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau website.

Local leases to Pioneer Green Energy will “hold” land while the company completes its feasibility studies. Where turbines are built, property owners will receive annual royalties.

Cohen would not say how many property owners have signed lease agreements with the company because of competition concerns.

“I will say that we have a good amount of land under lease,” he said.

The proposed wind farm could encompass three water reservoirs owned by North East Borough.

The borough will consider leasing the land to the company, Borough Manager Robert Brayman said.

“The additional revenue would help us hold the line on taxes and fees, and that’s something we have to consider,” he said.

The borough has not been offered a price to lease its land, Brayman said.

North East Borough hosted a public information meeting Monday about the proposed wind farm. About 50 people attended, Brayman said.

Reaction to the proposed wind farm – at Monday’s meeting and at previous meetings with property owners – has been generally positive, Cohen said.

“A lot of landowners have gone to look at wind farms elsewhere in Pennsylvania and in New York to see what they look and sound like. What we’ve heard from them has all been pretty positive,” Cohen said.

While many environmentalists support wind energy as a clean and renewable alternative to fossil fuels, others are concerned about the sound and aesthetics of giant, utility-scale turbines, and about the birds and bats killed by the turbines’ spinning blades.

Tom Wasilewski, coordinator of the Northwest Pennsylvania Eagle Conservation Association, said that the area targeted by the wind-farm project is home to an active bald eagle nest and other endangered birds, as well as osprey and many species of waterfowl and fish.

“The proposed project area includes part of the bird, bat, butterfly migration corridor that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously criticized the Ripley-Westfield (wind turbine) project’s site selection for,” Wasilewski said in an e-mail to the Erie Times-News.

Initial plans for a wind farm in Ripley and Westfield, N.Y., were scrapped about 11 years ago after federal and state environmental agencies expressed concerns about its dangers to migrating birds. Developers lost their government grant and their contract to sell the power that they would produce.

Another wind project currently proposed for development in Ripley and Westfield has been likewise criticized by fish and wildlife agencies and local residents.

Representatives of the Sierra Club, Audubon Pennsylvania and other environmental groups testified they had similar concerns about proposals to build wind farms offshore in Lake Erie during a state Senate hearing at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in March. The state Legislature is looking at legislation that would permit the lease of lake waters for wind energy.

Pioneer Green Energy will address environmental concerns before it builds any turbines, Cohen said.

“Wildlife concerns will help guide us on siting the turbines,” he said.

Pioneer Green Energy hopes to begin wind and environmental feasibility studies this summer and to begin permit applications as early as this fall, Cohen said.

That process will take two or more years to complete, he said.

Source:  By VALERIE MYERS, Erie Times-News, www.goerie.com 5 May 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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