A battle in northeastern Potter County pitting a wind power company against a shale gas driller is headed to court in a case that’s likely to draw widespread attention. Stuck in the middle is the sparsely populated Hector Township and a handful of property owners who have anticipated cashing in one or the other energy source.
First stage of what could be a protracted legal battle is a hearing scheduled for June 18-19.
Last July, the Hector Township Board of Supervisors approved Eolian Renewable Energy LLC plan to begin its “Big Level Wind” project. It involved construction of more than two dozen wind turbines across a 7,000-acre forested region in the Dodge Hollow/White Knoll area off Rt. 49.
Eolian targeted Hector Township during negotiations with the property owner, a John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company forestland investment subsidiary.
The turbines would be in excess of 600 feet high, some of the tallest structures in the world and more than twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. Electricity would be fed into the grid through a First Energy line.
Eolian has been working its way through other regulatory approvals, including the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection and the Potter County Conservation District.
As the company moved closer to groundbreaking earlier this year, its legality was challenged by JKLM Energy. That firm is the most active shale gas driller in Potter County and has revealed plans to continue drilling wells locally in the coming years.
JKLM had struck a deal with the families of Fred, John and James Young, who own significant gas, oil and mineral rights in the region. The Youngs are co-plaintiffs in the suit.
Since the two companies have been unable to agree on plans that could allow both of them to move forward, it will be up to the courts to determine whose rights take precedence.
Hector Township solicitor Karen Cahilly told Endeavor News that the municipality did its homework before giving Big Level Wind the green light.
“The township can’t deny a permit as long as the applicant has satisfied the requirements of that permit, and the company did what it needed to do,” Cahilly explained. “In actuality, both parties could have filed and been approved and then ended up with competing permits, but the issue still would have ended up in court . . . Other states are dealing with the same issue now, but there’s not a lot of case law on the subject.”
Cahilly believes Hector Township should be removed from the litigation process altogether.
“The supervisors don’t have the authority to determine which rights take priority. The township is more or less being taken along for the ride,” she said.
JKLM Energy spokesman Dave Mashek confirmed that the company sought a mutually beneficial solution with Eolian, but that option is likely off the table.
“We believed there was potential for both projects to proceed in harmony,” he said. “However, under the current construction plan proposed by Big Level Wind, that’s not the case. JKLM needed to take this action to defend its rights. Our position is that our subsurface rights supersede Big Levels surface rights (and) the proposed development would render JKLM’s access to the gas and oil impossible.”
Big Level Wind has a price tag of about $150 million, according to Eolian. Hector Township will receive an annual host agreement fee and annual payments based on the amount of electricity that is generated. Eolian representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding