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Wind sufficient for North East Township turbine farm

NORTH EAST – Plans to develop the Erie region’s first commercial wind farm have blown past their first obstacle.

Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy has gauged the wind south of Interstate 90 in North East Township and found it sufficient to power 50 to 75 giant turbines, enough to provide electricity to 45,000 homes.

“The wind is very strong, and it is very competitive with other operating wind farms,” company Vice President Adam Cohen said. “With over a year of data now, things look very, very positive.”

Wind off Lake Erie also is denser and more powerful than wind in other areas, Cohen said. That type of wind is especially suited to new turbine technology, he said.

“We’re very happy with the strength and quality of wind that we’ve seen,” he said.

Wildlife and environmental studies of the proposed project area, which is roughly bounded by Interstate 90, Townline Road and the New York state line, have also been positive so far, Cohen said. The company is working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to mitigate potential harm to birds and animals and is working with local governments and landowners to comply with environmental and property regulations, he said.

Pioneer Green Energy is also looking at how it would deliver electricity to First Energy and other utilities and is continuing to lease land for the project.

“There’s a lot of pre-permitting work to do. It takes many years to develop a wind project,” Cohen said. “But if all the studies continue to look good and the project moves forward, I’d anticipate that construction could begin near the end of 2013 or the early part of 2014.”

Public support for the project is strong, especially since spring frosts damaged local fruit crops, Cohen said.

“Growers are looking for ways to add revenues and hold on to their farms, particularly in the past year with the crop failures we’ve had. Leasing property for this project can help people maintain their properties long-term,” he said.

Tim Burch, a sixth-generation grower, farms 260 acres along Sidehill Road in North East Township and has leased land for the project.

“Do I think that it’s going to be a one-time answer-all for me? Not at all. Hopefully, it will be a supplement to the farm that I do run here, but more than that, I believe in wind energy,” Burch said.

Pioneer Green Energy to date has leased about 6,000 acres, including about 1,500 acres this fall, said Burch, who has been a kind of liaison between the company and local property owners.

“So far, everything’s looking good,” Burch said. “All guns are blazing.”