SUNBURY – It’s been four years since Northumberland County agreed to lease 75 acres to a Sunbury firm to develop a wind farm, but so far, the project hasn’t broken ground.
More than a year ago, the county learned that Penn Wind in Sunbury was looking to sell its interest in the project. However, on Thursday, county board Chairman Frank Sawicki said he spoke with a Penn Wind representative about a month ago and was told the plans are moving along.
“I have no idea what that means,” he said. “We’re waiting on Penn Wind.”
A call to Penn Wind owner Justin Dunkelberger was not returned Thursday.
Commissioner Vinny Clausi said he’s hopeful the project will be a success because the terms of the 29-year lease agreement provide the county 6 percent of the gross output from the three-turbine operation and allow for the company to expand into solar energy.
County officials estimate it could reap nearly $4 million from the project over nearly 30 years.
Taxpayers could still benefit even if it takes a few more years for construction to get under way.
The lease agreement requires Penn Wind to pay the county $50,000 a year if construction of the wind farm hasn’t begun by next April.
Of the 17 operating wind farms in Pennsylvania, wind turbines proposed last May to generate energy for Turkey Hill in Manor Township, Lancaster County, began operating in March.
Three wind farms are under construction in Blair, Cambria and Fayette counties.
Like the Penn Wind project, the status of another major alternative energy proposal in Northumberland County, a $32 million, 20-acre solar farm in Milton, is uncertain.
Maria Culp, president of the Central Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and chairwoman of the Milton Area Industrial Development Association, which is funding the construction, did not return a call Thursday.
Stacy Richards, director of SEDA-Council of Governments’ Energy Resource Center, said she’s not privy to the details of the two area projects, but said financing these type of plans is complicated.
Regardless of delays, she’s confident renewable energy will take off in Pennsylvania.
“I don’t know whether those two projects will happen, but they will in many other areas,” she said.
Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Kevin Sunday said Pennsylvania ranks third in the country for solar energy, with 3,229 solar panels installed mostly by homeowners and small businesses.
In an attempt to educate the private and public sectors about solar energy and the financing involved, the Energy Resource Center will hold a seminar from 7:30 to 10 a.m. June 3 in the Country Cupboard Restaurant, Route 15, north of Lewisburg.
“We’ll try to remove the blinders on the complex financing behind these projects,” Richards said, including the use of solar renewable energy credits and how municipalities may be able to capitalize on renewable energy. “I hate to see municipal-owned land tied up for 25, 30 years under lease to an outside investor.”
Not all municipalities are able to embark on their own, but she said some governments are in a position to invest in and operate solar energy systems.
One example is Loyalsock Township, which is installing solar panels on its municipal building, which could cut in half its $6,000 monthly electric bill.
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