Sometimes life imitates art. In literature, brave Don Quixote tilts at windmills he perceives as giant enemies.
In Penn Forest Township, some are jousting against a similar concept – giant windmills, or turbines, proposed for a pristine, undisturbed forest area of Carbon County.
Fact is, the turbines are true giants. And one doesn’t need to travel far to see what they look like. In adjacent Schuylkill County, Iberdrola Renewables Inc., the second-largest wind operator in the United States, installed about 60 turbines from 2006 and 2008. They fall within East Union, Union and West Mahanoy townships with a few in Conyngham Township in Columbia County.
The typical turbine soars 525 feet upward. By comparison, the Statue of Liberty is about 300 feet tall. The turbines’ massive rotating blades are more than 300 feet wide.
There were concerns in Schuylkill County that construction of the behemoths would chase away deer and other wildlife.
And that did happen, at least for a time.
“When the work was being done, we had people telling us we were chasing all the deer and animals away, but when all the construction was done and it got quiet up there, the deer, bears and everything came back,” said Sharon Chiao, a Mahanoy Township supervisor. Of course, that’s not a guarantee it’d happen the same way elsewhere.
These large turbines operate quietly but they’re not necessarily benign.
On March 15, 2014, one of the turbines burst into flames at the very top. When firefighters arrived at the Locust Ridge Wind Farm on Brandonville Mountain, the turbine was fully involved. All they could do was watch. Firefighters stood by until the blaze burned itself out.
In Carbon County, there’s plenty of opposition to the turbines. Construction would involve scarring wilderness with not only the high towers visible for miles, but also a permanent access road.
“As a lifelong resident of Carbon County, I am opposed to the possibility of wind turbines tarnishing our beautiful landscape. I understand the need for alternative energy, but building 40 windmills along our horizon, nestled within the tourism-dependent Pocono region, is not the answer,” says Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon.
A veteran of the mortgage industry, Phillip Nelson of Towamensing Trails, fears the proposed wind farm would negatively impact property values.
“Have you ever heard of economic obsolescence? I have been in the mortgage business for many years, and there are already too many homes in foreclosure in this area. I have seen these plans and I will tell you, people will just walk away from their homes.”
Nelson estimates homes will lose up to 30 percent of their value in the first two years, with a continuing residual decline.
“People did not invest their savings and retire here to look at that,” Nelson said.
Other residents expressed concern about wildlife and the land, which includes sensitive, ecological areas and several endangered plant species. Also within the area is Wild Creek Reservoir where osprey, a species of concern, has a natural habitat.
But a representative of Iberdola Renewables says the turbines are an accepted use for the land.
“Penn Forest Township has already determined that it is an appropriate use, because it is permitted by special exception,” said Craig Poff, director of business development.
The Penn Forest Township Zoning Board will review the wind farm application at its meeting at 7 p.m. today at the Penn Forest fire company.
It’s clear the residents of the area have legitimate concerns. Those opposing the project have set up a Facebook page, “Say NO to the Bethlehem Watershed Wind Farm project!” They’re resolute about protecting their homes, lifelong investment, and their quality of life. Those are darn good reasons to joust at windmills.
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