NOXEN – The majestic peaks of the Endless Mountains hold the promise of cheap, clean energy, but the desire to protect their towering beauty has some protesting the construction of a massive wind farm on the roof of 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 groundbreaking,” Mueller said.
With its plan for a wind farm with 90 turbines, each 328 feet tall – just over a football field – with a rotor diameter of 271 feet, the Mehoopany Wind Farm will be the largest 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 northeast Pennsylvania, which already has 12 wind turbines in Bear Creek Township and the Waymart Wind Energy Center with 43 turbines along the ridge of Moosic Mountain in Wayne County.
Advocates tout wind turbines as a great way to provide clean and renewable energy. Critics say they spoil aesthetic beauty and endanger birds and bats.
Defacing the mountains
Cathie Pauley, a Noxen resident and president of the Noxen Historical Community Association, said her father, Edgar Engleman, was one of the founders of Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau and she is concerned about windmills defacing the mountains in Wyoming County.
Wyoming County does not have many other industries other than Procter & Gamble paper products manufacturing plant and community officials base tourism on “our beautiful mountains,” Pauley said.
“Now, tell me who will want to see our mountains when they deface them with their roads, their windmills and their clear-cutting,” Pauley said, adding she also is concerned about wind turbines endangering birds and bats.
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.
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.
$10 billion industry
American wind power has grown into a $10 billion-a-year industry, according to the association. Wind energy comprised 35 percent of all new generating capacity in America over the last four years, more than coal and nuclear combined. U.S. wind developers are currently installing 100 wind farms a year and they are ahead of the 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 from BP for $87,500 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 could be used for township needs such as paving roads, he said.
Zingaretti, who lives next to the wind farm, 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.”
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