NORTH EAST – The wind still gusts, at times, along the ridge line south of Interstate 90 in North East Township. But no one will harness it to generate electricity any time soon.
A developer planning to build the region’s first commercial wind farm in the township has terminated all of its property leases for the project and will build no giant turbines there.
“We continue to feel that Erie County is a great place for the kind of clean energy investment that we make, and we’re very appreciative of the support we’ve gotten from landowners and the township, but we’ve suspended most activities there for the time being,” Craig Adair, development manager for Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy, said Monday.
The company will continue to monitor wind in the region and one day may reconsider building a local wind farm, Adair said. “Any number of things could change and cause us to take another look,” he said.
North East residents who strongly opposed the proposed wind farm applaud the news that Pioneer Green Energy has suspended construction plans.
“We are certainly pleased,” said Paul Crowe, a founder of Neighbors for a Responsible North East, a group opposing the wind farm. “I think more people are starting to realize that wind energy is not the answer it was believed to be. It’s a very expensive way of generating electricity, it’s intermittent, and it has all kind of bad side effects for people who live around the giant turbines.”
Neighbors for a Responsible North East cite potential turbine noise, shadow “flicker,” construction noise, reduced property values and “insufficient” setbacks between the proposed turbines and neighboring homes as concerns.
Environmentalists who rallied in December to support the proposed wind farm express disappointment that it won’t be built.
“I think it’s disappointing but that it may be a natural consequence of dysfunctional federal policy concerning tax credits for energy,” said Stephen Porter, co-chairman of the Northwest Pennsylvania Green Economy Task Force. “We have permanent tax breaks for the fossil fuels industry and only temporary tax breaks for renewable energy that become caught up in the political maneuverings of the day.”
The federal tax credit offered per kilowatt hour of electricity generated from wind and other renewable energy sources expired on Dec. 31. Congress so far has shown little inclination to extend it.
That’s one of “a number of factors” in Pioneer’s decision to suspend its North East project, Adair said.
“A lot of things figure into a project like this,” he said, “from power prices to power demand to conditions of the grid, cost to connect to the grid and environmental considerations. I can’t be more specific than that, but the (federal production tax credit) is part of it.”
The proposed wind farm suffered another recent blow when the Federal Aviation Administration determined in October that turbines would interfere with air surveillance radar used by air traffic controllers at Erie International Airport. The turbines would cause inaccurate readings for about 61 aircraft monitored daily by the radar, located south of Interstate 90 in McKean Township, an FAA specialist said.
Pioneer Green Energy originally planned to build as many as 67 450-foot wind turbines in North East. The company repeatedly downsized the project, most recently to fewer than a dozen turbines.
Adair could not say how many acres Pioneer Green Energy had leased for the wind farm.
Farmer Tim Burch, who leased land for the project and strongly supported its construction, said in late 2012 that the company had leased more than 6,000 acres.
Many of the leases were since terminated as the project was scaled back, Adair said.
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