Plans for the Buck Mountain wind farm fell behind schedule and the proposed wind turbines won’t generate electricity until at least three years after a zoning permit expires.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission learned of the delay last month in a letter that said Buck Mountain Wind Energy temporarily had been suspended in the queue at the PJM Interconnection, which regulates how new electricity suppliers tap onto the grid.
Buck Energy now expects the wind farm will produce energy no later than October 2019, the letter from an attorney for PPL Electric Utilities said.
Matt Dallas, a spokesman for Buck Energy’s parent firm Pattern Development, said the company aims to have the turbines operating by 2017 and remains committed to the project.
When outlining the old schedule in a notification letter on April 29, PPL’s attorneys said Buck Energy had approvals from PJM and expected to begin generating power in December 2016.
A zoning permit requires Buck Energy to substantially complete the project by July 2, 2016, a deadline the company will miss according to the revised schedule.
The Schuylkill County Zoning Board granted the permit in 2009 after no one complained about the plan to install 30 wind turbines in North Union Township, Schuylkill County, and Beaver Township, Columbia County.
This year, however, North Union resident Ed Palubinsky took a public stance against the wind farm, saying the turbines that create clean energy might also be noisy, harm wildlife and change the rural character of the mountain.
Palubinsky and others who share his views could contest the project if Buck Energy seeks to renew the permit with the zoning board.
On Wednesday, the PUC’s board unanimously gave approval for installing the transmission lines and substation.
Buck Energy will spend $3 million building the lines and a substation, but will sell them to PPL.
While the wind turbines are proposed for ridge tops in North Union and Beaver townships, the transmission lines, a switching station and a substation will be in Sugarloaf Township, Luzerne County.
A map attached to PPL’s notification letter shows the lines, the substation and a switching station near the border of Sugarloaf and Hazle townships, south of Tomhicken Road and about two miles west of Route 93.
In addition, Buck Energy plans to build an eight-mile line from the Buck Mountain substation to the wind farm. That line did not require the PUC’s approval because Buck Energy will keep it instead of transferring it to PPL.
In a fact sheet from December 2014, Pattern Development said the wind farm would have 30 wind turbines and generate 90 megawatts of power, or enough for 25,000 homes.
PPL’s notification letter, however, said Buck Energy planned 34 turbines that would produce 100 megawatts or enough for 100,000 homes.
Six years ago when submitting plans for the wind farm to the Schuylkill zoning board, the original developer, Penn Wind, pegged the project’s cost at $60 million.
PPL’s notification letter said the lines will have minimal effect on land because they will follow existing transmission lines and won’t cross streams or wetlands.
One access road to the switching yard will cross a stream.
Wind turbines, however, can kill bats and birds. The Pennsylvania Game Commission told Buck Energy how to reduce the potential for harming the Indiana bat, which is endangered nationally, the small-footed bat that is endangered in Pennsylvania and the northern long-eared bat that Pennsylvania lists as a species of special concern.
For example, workers installing the turbines won’t cut trees between April and Nov. 15 when bats might roost in them.
The state Fish and Boat Commission, likewise, pointed out steps to protect rattlesnakes on Buck Mountain during construction.
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