NORTH EAST – No one at Monday’s North East Township meeting questioned the need to limit where commercial wind farms can be built in the township.
Some of the 45 people attending did question the local planning commission’s proposal to allow giant turbines closer to roads and property lines than they’d like.
Planners recommend that wind farms be limited to the south side of the township, in an area bounded roughly by Interstate 90, Williams and Sidehill roads, east to the New York state line, excluding the Route 89 corridor.
They also recommend that turbines be set back from roads and neighboring property lines by a distance equal to 1.1 times the turbine’s height, measured to the tip of an upright blade. A 500-foot turbine would be set back 550 feet. The minimum setback between a 500-foot turbine and a home owned by a neighbor not leasing land for a wind farm would be 1,500 feet, based on a separate formula.
The proposed setbacks and “wind energy district” are part of a new wind energy development ordinance presented to township supervisors for review.
Matt Putman, of Neighbors for a Responsible North East, said the proposed setbacks are insufficient and are less than some turbine manufacturers recommend. Turbines should be at least 1,300 feet from roads and property lines and more than a mile from any neighborhood to reduce potential noise and “shadow flicker,” he said.
“We don’t know about the effects of shadow flicker, the effects of noise and what those combined effects on property values might be,” Putman said. “These things, we feel, lead to decreasing property value.”
The group is also concerned about the aesthetics of giant windmills, Putman said. “They would take away from the vineyards and charm that make North East what it is.”
Wind farms would preserve that charm, fruit farmer Tim Burch said. Growers plagued by poor weather and poor crops in recent years could supplement their income by leasing land for turbines. The extra income could help farmers avoid selling off their land, he said.
“Turbines won’t interfere with the beautiful landscape of North East.
“They’ll be placed in rural farmland far away from population centers and will keep additional subdivisions from being built on our beautiful farmland,” Burch said.
Burch represents landowners that support Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy plans to build a wind farm along the escarpment south of Interstate 90. The company plans to build 10 to 20 turbines, down from 50 to 75, company officials said.
Modern turbines are quiet and produce shadow flicker – as blades rotate in front of the sun – less than 30 hours each year and for two minutes per occurrence, Pioneer Green Energy spokesman Johnny Walker said.
“It’s not a major issue,” he said.
Putman asked for a 60-day moratorium on the proposed wind energy development ordinance.
“Take a deep breath, step back and let’s get a logical ordinance,” he told supervisors.
What’s On Table, What’s Off
North East Township’s proposed wind energy development ordinance is based on a model created by state environmental and developmental agencies, wind energy associations and municipal government associations, including the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
Supervisors will review the ordinance, then will advertise it for adoption and schedule a public hearing before voting to accept, revise or reject it. There’s no time frame for that process, Supervisor Vernon Frye said. The township will not consider prohibiting commercial wind farm development, Frye said.
“You cannot zone them out of a municipality. It can’t be done,” he said.
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