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Wind energy study clears state House

State representatives are on a fact-finding mission to determine the impacts of a federal push toward alternative energy, and namely the projected growth of Pennsylvania’s wind turbine industry, as the technology’s long-held reputation as a clean energy source gets a little dirtier.

On Wednesday, a resolution directing the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study on the use and overall impact of wind turbines was overwhelmingly adopted by the state House by a margin of 181-11.

State Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, is among those saying more needs to be known about the “real world” effects of wind energy production across Pennsylvania, saying “we’ve never looked at the industry closely.”

“With the ever-growing number of reports confirming that on-shore wind energy facilities are directly responsible for the clearing of large areas of forested land and the deaths of thousands of migratory birds, endangered bats and even eagles, we can no longer just assume that wind turbines are absolutely harmless to our environment or even a viable source of alternative energy,” Rapp said.

In part, the impetus for the study approved Wednesday is a federal clean energy campaign Rapp said could forever alter the landscape of the Commonwealth, both figuratively and literally.

Currently, one percent of electricity production comes from clean and renewable sources like wind, but Rapp said a proposal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to see that figure increased to 43 percent by 2030.

“My concern is in reaching the level the EPA requires, how much land mass in Pennsylvania is it going to take,” Rapp said.

State Rep. Matt Gabler, R-DuBois, also wants a closer look taken at how the government subsidies support wind energy production and whether the technology’s benefits outweigh its environmental impacts and geographic footprint.

“Instead of blindly handing so-called ‘alternative’ energy sources a blank check as many government officials would, we should seek to make decisions based on solid facts,” Gabler said. “I’m hopeful this study will help give a credible view of the costs and benefits of this energy source that I feel has been blindly subsidized and mandated in recent years, especially since the passage of our Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards law in Pennsylvania.”

The findings of the study, to be announced by this time next year, will identify the number of wind turbines operating in Pennsylvania and their owners. The study will also identify the agencies in charge of their operation of wind turbines, how the technology is subsidized by the government, wind turbines’ imprint acreage and effects on wildlife and impact on the electric grid.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, said Pennsylvania’s energy future is likely to involve a combination of traditional fossil fuels and cutting-edge, alternative energies.

“We need a diverse energy policy that includes all sources – oil, coal, nuclear, wind – but anyone who thinks fossil fuels are going away is kidding themselves,” Causer said, adding, “windmills a part of the equation.”

Rapp said she, too, supports alternative energy but like Causer feels more needs to be known about the collateral consequences of wind farms, comprised of towering windmills with large rotating blades, on wildlife including bats and birds.

“Bats are being killed in large numbers at wind energy farms,” Rapp said.

The impact on humans is less direct. By all accounts renewable energies have lower environmental impacts than conventional energy technologies like the burning of fossil fuels.

Rapp questions whether the construction of large wind farms will potentially disturb neighborhoods and residents.

“The more I look into this the more questions I have,” she said.

Causer said while wind turbine projects have been proposed in Potter County, he is aware of none that have come to fruition.

Rapp also said she knows of none in her legislative district, adding her office is looking into it.

Causer and Rapp said they don’t know of any wind farms slated to be developed in the region at this time. In neighboring Cattaraugus County, N.Y., a successful fight was waged against EverPower, who sought to develop a large wind farm in the Chipmonk Road area.