NORTH EAST – A group of North East Township residents is urging township officials to strictly regulate commercial wind farm development.
The group, called Neighbors for a Responsible North East and led by Matt Putman and Paul Crowe, is lobbying for limits on the size of wind turbines that can be built in the township and a ban on commercial turbines, or windmills, within 1 mile of any neighborhood.
The group additionally wants the township to require developers to set money aside to cover any private property depreciation after a wind farm is built and the cost to remove nonfunctional turbines.
More immediately, the group wants more time to educate the public about plans to build a commercial wind farm in North East Township before township supervisors consider any ordinance addressing wind farm development, Crowe said.
“The thing we’ve been trying to promote is delay of any kind of decision for at least 60 days, so there’s time for people in the community to get a grasp of what’s going on,” he said.
A number of township residents first became aware of the proposed wind farm in late March when township planners and supervisors advertised plans to consider an ordinance regulating commercial wind farm development, Crowe said.
Planning for the proposed wind farm began more than two years ago when Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy started leasing land in North East Township. In summer 2011, the company put up a test tower to gauge the wind along the ridge south of Interstate 90. Yearlong results showed that the wind is strong enough and sustained enough to power turbines, company Vice President Adam Cohen said in October.
The company originally hoped to build 50 to 75 turbines to provide electricity for 45,000 homes but now plans to build 10 to 20 turbines, Pioneer Green Energy officials said. The turbines would be built south of Interstate 90, roughly between Townline Road and the New York state line.
There’s strong incentive for Pioneer Green Energy to break ground for the project this year if company officials decide to move ahead with construction, company Vice President David Savage said in March. Federal tax credits for wind and solar energy development expire Dec. 31.
Neighbors for a Responsible North East want to limit the height of turbines in North East Township to 250 feet, including the upright blade, and to prohibit turbines within 1,300 feet of any road or commercial or residential property line, Putman and Crowe said.
The group would also require the developer to bank an amount equal to 30 percent of the cost of wind farm construction in a local escrow account accessible to township officials. The fund would pay for the removal of broken turbines and for home appraisals and depreciation. Homeowners would request an appraisal of their homes before a wind farm is built and would be paid the difference if their home sells for less than the appraised value after construction, Putman said.
Commercial wind turbines would lower property values and could threaten the health and safety of township residents and wildlife, Putman and Crowe said. The windmills are also unsightly, they said.
“There isn’t enough open space in North East Township to hide those out of the way. Every place you stand in North East Township, you’re going to see windmills,” Putman said.
Neighbors for a Responsible North East are sharing concerns about the proposed wind farm at http://northeastwindmills.com.
Tim Burch is among North East Township residents who support wind farm development. Burch, who farms 260 acres along Sidehill Road and has leased property to Pioneer Green Energy, said royalties from the lease won’t make him rich or allow him to retire but might help him continue to farm.
“What farmers will gain is a supplement to the income that they have, that might help us carry on the tough farming tradition,” Burch said. “It might make the difference on whether a farmer decides to carry on into the next generation, or plant houses and forget about the tough life of farming.”
Pioneer Green Energy has not disclosed how much property owners would earn in annual royalties from turbines. Wind farms in Somerset County paid annual royalties of $3,500 to $4,000 per turbine in 2011, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau website.
Burch said he supports township restrictions on where wind turbines can be built, but he does not support all of Neighbors for a Responsible North East’s recommendations.
“I think the township needs to put in place a zoning ordinance with setbacks and with rights of way defined, not only to protect me as a landowner, but all of my neighbors and all of the residents of North East,” Burch said. “The last thing I want to see is windmills put up everywhere.”
Neighbors for a Responsible North East’s call for developers to cover private property depreciation is “not practical,” Burch said.
“If Welch’s was to leave North East, what would happen to the market value of houses here? There are so many other circumstances that affect property value, it’s just not practical to hold a developer responsible,” he said.
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