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Wind developer gets North East landowners on board

NORTH EAST – North East Township property owners are signing on with plans for a large-scale wind farm in the township.

Pioneer Green Energy, of Austin, Texas, is leasing land to “hold” it while the company completes project-feasibility studies.

The company hopes to build 50 to 75 giant wind turbines in an area bounded approximately by Interstate 90, Townline Road and the New York state line. The wind farm would produce about 150 megawatts of electricity for distribution through the eastern power grid.

Tim Burch was one of the first landowners to sign on with the project. Burch, who farms 260 acres along Sidehill Road, said that he supports the wind farm because he supports green energy – not because it will be a windfall.

“I’m not going to get rich from this. I’m not going into this believing I’ll be able to retire or quit my day job. I believe that wind energy is green energy and will cause less harm to the environment around my farm than a nuclear plant or burning more coal,” Burch said.

Property owners and Pioneer Green Energy have not said how much the company is paying for land leases.

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

“This would be a supplement to income for landowners. Mostly it will be a clean source of energy and additional tax base for Erie County and our local municipality,” Burch said.

North East Borough could also benefit from the project. The proposed wind farm encompasses three water reservoirs owned by the borough.

Pioneer Green Energy will make its pitch to the borough Finance Committee on July 20, said Adam Cohen, the company’s president and co-founder.

“They’ve invited us to meet with them, and our goal is definitely to lease their land. We’d love to have them join the project once they work their way through the process on their end,” Cohen said.

The process so far is hazy, North East Borough Manager Robert Brayman said.

“This is something we haven’t done before. We may not be allowed to have just one company come in and then sign a lease. According to state law, we might have to invite more companies in and go through a bid process,” Brayman said.

The borough will work out the details and consider leasing land for the wind farm, he said.

“We want to be as green as possible. And anything that creates new revenue streams – we’d be stupid not to look at it,” Brayman said.

Local officials aren’t banking on those revenues yet.

Other wind development companies have looked at the area – and then looked away after measuring wind capacity, township Supervisor Dennis Culver said.

“Two of them have come in since I’ve been here, one out of Canada and another out of New York state,” Culver said. “They did their studies, and that was the end of it. What they found in the past is that, while the wind blows like hell sometimes, it’s not steady,” Culver said.

Pioneer Green Energy will not say how many lease agreements it’s negotiated in North East because of competition concerns.

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