Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains hold the promise of cheap, clean wind energy, but the need to protect the beauty of those rolling hills has some residents protesting the construction of a massive wind farm in Wyoming County.
BP Wind Energy is finalizing permits and anticipates beginning construction this fall of a wind farm on a 9,000-acre site in Mehoopany, Noxen, Forkston and Eaton townships. Securing power purchase agreements with Old Dominion Electric Cooperative and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative earlier this month was a key milestone to move the project forward, said BP spokesman Tom Mueller.
“With those agreements in hand, we will be moving ahead with construction planning activities toward a fourth-quarter ground-breaking,” Mueller said.
With 90 turbines, each 328 feet tall – just over the length of a football field – with a rotor diameter of 271 feet, the Mehoopany project will be the largest wind farm in Pennsylvania. It will generate enough electricity to power more than 40,000 homes annually and is expected to be commercially operational in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to BP.
The cost of the wind farm and the number of jobs the project will create won’t be known until the construction contract has been awarded, said Amanda Abbott, director of government and public affairs for BP Wind Energy.
Reaction is mixed in Northeastern Pennsylvania, which already has 12 wind turbines in Bear Creek Township and 43 turbines in the Waymart Wind Energy Center along the ridge of Moosic Mountain in Wayne County, northeast of Scranton.
Advocates tout wind turbines as a great way to provide clean and renewable energy. Critics say they spoil the beauty of mountains and endanger birds and bats.
Cathie Pauley, a Noxen resident and president of the Noxen Historical Community Association, said she is concerned about windmills defacing the mountains in Wyoming County.
Wyoming County does not have much of an industrial base other than Procter & Gamble paper products manufacturing plant, and community officials look to “our beautiful mountains” for tourism dollars, Pauley said.
“Now, tell me who will want to see our mountains when they deface them with their roads, their wind mills and their clear-cutting,” Pauley said, adding she also is concerned about wind turbines endangering animals.
Wind turbines in Pennsylvania kill an estimated 10,500 bats and 1,680 birds each year, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
BP Wind Energy has worked with local and state environmental agencies, including the Game Commission, to “incorporate avoidance measures that protect both avian, sensitive plant species and other type of protected wildlife in the area,” Abbott said.
“Throughout the development and permitting process for this project, we have undertaken extensive, multi-year wildlife and habitat studies in order to avoid, minimize or mitigate any impacts to avian and bat species, in addition to state and federally protected species,” Abbott said. “We do not anticipate any impacts to local soil and groundwater as a result of the construction of the wind farm. No water is used in the generation of wind energy.”
Noxen Township officials are preparing for the approximate 35 turbines that will be located in the South Mountain area. Tannery Street will be widened, since crews will use this route to access their equipment, said Denise Hosey, chair of Noxen Township Supervisors. Crews will travel from Route 29 to Tannery Street to School Street to Stull Road up to South Mountain, she said. BP will cover the cost to widen Tannery Street, the company said.
“I feel it’s a great opportunity to create a cleaner source of energy and also to bring jobs to our area, but it may be a little inconvenient for our local residents due to some traffic changes,” Hosey said. “We’re in the process of working with BP Energy and Milnes Engineering to widen some roadways to allow easier access of their equipment.”
Construction, inspection and driving jobs are among the positions the wind farm will create, Hosey said. Despite some opposition, she believes the wind farm will be “more of a positive thing than a negative thing.”
Noxen Township Supervisor Carl Shook said it has been a six-year process to bring a wind farm to Wyoming County.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about BP being really willing to work with us and do the right thing as far as the environment goes,” Shook said. “Clean energy is what we’re striving for.”
About 20 of the wind turbines will be located in Eaton Township, said Supervisor Randy Ehrenzeller.
“We’re learning as we go about the technology and the benefits that it brings to lower power costs and to have more environmentally friendly power generation,” he said. “It appears they are going to be good neighbors.”
Eaton Township supervisors have heard concerns from residents about the visual aspects of wind turbines breaking up an unspoiled area of mountains, Ehrenzeller said.
Concerns about wind turbines being located in a Woodland Conservation zoning district came up in another area community, Butler Township in Schuylkill County, which revoked a zoning permit in 2009 to the proposed developer of a wind turbine project along Ashland Mountain.
Commonwealth Court upheld a decision in March this year that Broad Mountain Development Co. did not have the right to the permit because wind turbines were not allowed in such districts where extensive conservation efforts were underway. The opinion ended the proposed construction of 27 wind turbines.
In a one-sentence order handed down recently, the state Supreme Court declined to allow Broad Mountain Development Co. to appeal the revocation of its zoning permit to build the wind turbines.
Although wind farms have faced some criticism, Abbott outlined the benefits wind projects add to a community. Lease payments provide a stable cash flow for farmers and ranchers without using much land, she said. Wind farm projects create jobs during construction and operation and create demand for local goods and services. Property taxes are paid on the installed equipment, she said.
Despite a slow economy, the wind industry in the U.S. has been growing exponentially for the last two decades, said Liz Salerno, chief economist for the American Wind Energy Association.
According to the association: American wind power has grown into a $10 billion-a-year industry; it comprised 35 percent of new generating capacity in America over the last four years, more than coal and nuclear combined; U.S. wind developers are installing 100 wind farms each year and are ahead of a goal of producing 20 percent of America’s electricity by 2030; more than 400 manufacturing facilities make wind components across 43 states.
Along with electricity, wind farms generate cash for communities.
So far, Noxen Township has received an application fee of $87,500 from BP and $500 for an easement. One building permit has been issued for a wind testing tower. More permits will be needed before the turbines are constructed in Wyoming County, according to Noxen Township secretary and treasurer Wendy Hettes.
Bear Creek Township receives $36,000 a year each year for the 12 wind turbines there, said Bear Creek Township Supervisor Gary Zingaretti. That money goes into a fund and can be used for township needs such as paving roads, he said.
Noise, no pollution
Zingaretti, who lives next to the wind farm in Bear Creek, said a disadvantage of the turbines is noise.
“They are louder than people tend to think they will be,” he said. “When they were first explained to us, they said you wouldn’t hear them at all, and that’s not the case. You can hear them. It all depends on your location compared to the turbines and the general flow of the wind.”
The wind farm in Bear Creek Township employs 10 people, said Dave Smith, chief operating officer of Infigen, manager of the wind farm. Many more people were hired during construction of the wind farm, which has been operational since 2006, he said.
Like BP Wind Energy, Infigen participates in a cooperative with the Game Commission to protect wildlife, Smith said. The turbines are capable of generating enough electricity to power more than 4,730 homes. The main benefit of the 12 turbines is that they generate electricity without any pollution, he said.
“We feel the benefits outweigh what may be perceived as some negative aspects,” Smith said.
The Waymart Wind Energy Center, owned and operated by a subsidiary of Juno Beach, Fla.-based energy supplier NextEra Energy Resources, also has resulted in a number of benefits since it began operation in 2003, said spokesman Mary Wells.
The center employs six people, adds to the tax base of Wayne County and provides economic stimulus through landowner lease payments, according to NextEra. Meanwhile, it creates no air or water pollution, uses no water in the generation of electricity and allows land to remain in agricultural use. The Waymart Wind Energy Center’s 43 turbines can generate enough electricity to power more than 21,000 homes.