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Groups air wind concerns: Environmental and health impacts discussed at public meeting

Two local groups working to preserve one of the area’s natural landmarks came together in Mifflin County Thursday to discuss how the communities of Brady Township, Huntingdon County, and Granville, Union, Menno, Oliver and Wayne townships, Mifflin County, would be impacted by proposed wind projects across the tops of Jack’s and Stone mountains.

Laura Jackson, president of Save Our Allegheny Ridges, addressed what her group and the Friends of Jack’s Mountain know about the turbines proposed by companies Volkswind and E.ON.

Jackson was given permission to speak on behalf of the wind companies, as they couldn’t be in attendance.

“This is the question you need to ask yourself: Do you want wind turbines on Jack’s and Stone mountains?” she asked the crowd of about 90.

Jackson shared information about the energy consumption habits of the United States.

“A lot of people think industrial wind will reduce our oil consumption,” Jackson said, stating the U.S. gets most of its oil from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. “But wind and oil really don’t interact that much. We use 2 percent of our oil supply to create electricity and that’s what wind is used for to create electricity.”

“Another thing that people think with wind energy is we need to have wind energy because we want to increase our energy independence. We want to make our own energy,” Jackson told the group, pointing out that wind energy, in her estimation, is about “corporate profits driving economic development.”

Jackson said that wind energy would not offset the need for oil imports.

“The Energy Information Association predicts that by 2020, we will have enough oil and gas production to equal the cost of any imports, so wind is not really going to be impacted by oil and gas,” she said.

Jackson also discussed subsidies provided by the federal government to companies producing wind energy and the production tax credit.

She also acknowledged wind does create jobs.

“Yes, wind does create construction jobs,” she said. “There will be a lot of temporary construction jobs generated when there are wind developers in place. Hundreds of people will be employed.”

Jackson noted these jobs would likely only be temporary.

“When it’s all said and done and these turbines are up, there will be five to 10 full-time people working for the project,” she said.

Jackson also acknowledged that farm and land owners would see an increased revenue stream from allowing the turbines on their properties.

“Some of those tax dollars do go to townships, go to the counties and go to the school districts, so there is money that does come into the area,” she said, noting “there’s a price for that.”

According to statistics presented by Jackson, property values can be impacted by wind projects.

Jackson also presented slides showing the size and area surrounding the wind turbines and the aesthetics of the proposed turbines and discussed the practicality of using Pennsylvania for wind development.

“The number one reason (wind developers are interested in using Jack’s and Stone mountains) is the federal and state subsidies,” Jackson said, pointing out the subsidies have been available for 30 years. “The other reason is Jack’s and Stone mountains have transmission lines.”

Jackson noted both companies have put meteorological test towers in place.

“They will require about 100 feet level top of Jack’s Mountain,” Jackson said. “That’s not just in that one spot, but for the four miles they’re planning.”

Jackson said VolksWind wants to put up 20 turbines and has secured leases in Granville, Union, Oliver and Menno townships, Mifflin County, and is unsure of where the access road will be placed.

“E.ON isn’t as far in planning,” she said. Jackson noted the company has secured leases on both Stone and Jack’s mountains in Brady Township, Huntingdon County, and Menno, Oliver and Wayne townships, Mifflin County, and would use Jack’s Mountain Road as an access road. “We don’t know how many turbines.”

Jackson also noted both companies would have to build substations because they cannot hook directly into the existing transmission lines.

“They haven’t done the preconstruction studies yet,” Jackson said. “That will start in spring and they’ll have to study wildlife, archaeology, do some civil engineering work, check out if there are any national wetlands and check for rare plants. They’ll have to do the erosion and sedimentation plans. They’ll have to do storm water management plans.”

She said after all these studies are completed, the wind companies would have to submit the plans to the local conservation district and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“If they get the DEP permits, then they apply for the township permit and then construction can occur,” Jackson said. “It usually takes about nine months for the project to go up. This process … can take anywhere from two to 10 to 12 years.”

The group also heard from Huntingdon resident Greg Grove, founder of the Stone Mountain Hawk Watch, speaking about the migration paths of hawks along Jack’s and Stone mountains; Shawn McDuff, president of the Hyner Hang Gliding Club Inc., in reference to hang gliding in the area; and Karl Streidieck, president of the Mifflin Soaring Association, regarding the use of sail planes in the area. Jackson also spoke regarding the health and watershed impacts of wind turbines.

Jackson encouraged those in attendance to contact their township officials and encouraged them to refuse issuing permits to the wind companies or to pass ordinances restricting development.