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Bethlehem takes step toward new wind energy generator for watershed lands

Bethlehem has a new company interested in generating wind energy on the city’s watershed lands.

Iberdrola Renewables is seeking to sign a deal with the city to study and then hopefully generate wind energy on Bethlehem’s watershed lands in Carbon County for up to 61 years.

Bethlehem City Council’s public works committee gave its endorsement to the deal tonight. Bethlehem has been working to enlist a wind energy company to lease its watershed lands since 2009 but two previous deals fell through.

“I’m so glad we’re reaching this point – projects like this have been discussed for so long,” Councilwoman Karen Dolan said.

Bethlehem’s contract with Iberdrola would give the city at least $100,000 a year from wind energy generation and the possibility of earning up to $500,000 a year, said Stephen Repasch, executive director of the Bethlehem Authority, which overseas the city’s watershed lands. The range depends on how much wind energy the property can generate, he said.

Iberdrola will pay Bethlehem $10,000 a year for up to five years to study the land’s wind energy potential and then $100,000 a year for up to another five years if more study is needed. Then the city would collect the wind energy generation money for 25 years with the possibility of extending Iberdrola’s contract another 26 years.

Iberdrola, which is the second largest wind energy company in the United States, won’t be allowed to build wind turbines near Bethlehem’s reservoirs and wetlands; their turbines would have to be contained to the watershed’s ridge tops, officials said.

Iberdrola also will have to undergo federal and state studies to ensure its wind turbines won’t affect any birds or other animals that live in or migrate through the watershed area, officials said. Iberdrola Director of Business Development Craig Poff said the company has developed its own avian and bat protection plan and has been an industry leader on the issue.

Bethlehem resident Victoria Bastidas, who attended the meeting to represent local chapters of the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, asked if the company would consider shutting down operations during migration periods. She said she knows the watershed lands are home to raptors.

Bastidas also warned that the choice between having 10, 20 or 30 wind turbines would make a big difference on how many trees would have to be cut down to construct roads. Bethlehem also gets a one-time payment of $1,000 per turbine that’s installed.

Repasch is expected to answer Bastidas’ questions and those raised by other residents before the full city council votes on the contract with Iberdrola, which is likely to happen Feb. 19.