A proposed wind farm on Shaffer Mountain in Ogle and Shade townships would be Invenergy’s first project in Pennsylvania.
Michael Kaplan, vice president of business development for the Chicago-based company, said Friday that any project is still years away.
“At this point, we’re in the early stages,” he said. “We are not picking up where another company left off. We’re trying to understand for ourselves the site’s environmental issues, to vet the wind speeds and to determine where we would interconnect to the grid. As part of the process, we will roll out a stakeholder campaign and reach out to folks this spring or summer.”
The other company was Gamesa, of Madrid, Spain, which in 2012 dropped plans to install turbines in the same area. The company cited a combination of factors, including uncertainty surrounding federal tax credit policies.
Several agencies and groups found evidence of a colony of Indiana bats at or near the proposed wind farm site. The bats are a federally endangered species. The area is also home to hawks and golden eagles.
Laura Jackson, president of Save Our Allegheny Ridges, a nonprofit organization that fights to protect forested mountain ridges, said bats have small fragile lungs and the turbine’s air displacement can kill bats, even if they weren’t hit by the blades.
Invenergy is a privately held company. It is the largest independent wind power generation company in North America. Invenergy also does projects in solar energy, advanced energy storage and natural gas. The company has developed more than 14,900 megawatts of energy across 100 projects in North America, Latin America, Japan, Scotland and Poland.
At present, Invenergy has leases for more than 10,000 acres in Somerset County and is still meeting with landowners. Kaplan said it is too early to say how many turbines will be proposed for the project or how tall they would be. Depending on the number of turbines, the company will have six to 15 employees at the wind farm during operations, and hundreds would be involved in construction.
About 20 people attended an Ogle Township supervisors meeting on Feb. 6 to voice concerns about the possible wind farm. Paint resident Joseph Cominsky, who owns about 90 acres in Ogle Township, said he would like to see a township ordinance amended to increase setback distances for turbines. He said he thinks the current setbacks, which are five times the height of a turbine for a structure and two times the height for a property line, should be increased to 2,500 feet from a structure and 2,000 feet from a property line.
Kaplan cautions people not to come to any conclusions at this stage of the process.
“Concerns about changes to the ordinance when there is nothing specifically proposed are premature,” he said. “It is not as though local ordinances are the only rules and regulations on wind farms. There are also state and federal regulations. The setback ordinance that is on the books seems to have been prudently drafted. It provides a rigorous framework to follow.”
He doesn’t believe that President Donald Trump’s administration will make any immediate changes to federal regulations involving renewable energy.
Kaplan has heard people express concerns that Invenergy would condemn properties to build wind turbines. Invenergy does not have that authority as it is a private company, not a municipal body, he said.
It is a common practice of wind farm opponents to suggest modifications to ordinances as a strategy to prevent construction, he said. The company is concerned that increased setbacks would keep smaller landowners from leasing land to the company. That ordinance change would favor large landowners.
“We are open to hearing people’s concerns,” he said. “It is worth noting we are owner-operators of projects. We expect to be a member of the community for the asset’s entire life. Our employees will be part of the community. We are excited to be members of the community and we hope to engage the community in the process.”
Jackson admitted that greater turbine setbacks can limit leasing opportunities to large landowners.
“My reply would be it would be nice to have more information. It’s fairly early in the testing phase, so the more transparent they can be everything will be better,” she said. “I’d like to know what they plan to do.”
“When companies have good intentions on being a good neighbor, the thing is they don’t have to live next to the turbine and put up with the noise and shadow flicker,” she said. “Unfortunately people do suffer when turbines are too close to homes.”
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