The company looking to put energy-producing wind turbines on Bethlehem’s watershed is scaling back the size of the project.
Atlantic Wind LLC has zoning approval from Penn Forest Township in Carbon County for 37 turbines on the land in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains region.
But that approval is the subject of ongoing litigation, leading to a new, separate proposal for 28 turbines located farther from homes than the original proposal called for, said Paul Copleman, spokesman for Atlantic Wind parent Avangrid Renewables.
“By scaling it back it seems to hopefully appease some of the folks up there who don’t want to see the project there,” Bethlehem Authority Executive Director Stephen Repasch said Thursday. “I’m fairly certain that the strategy for Atlantic Wind is to build the project, No. 1, and if the project continues to get tied up, they have a Plan B and they submitted that.”
The authority manages more than 22,000 acres in Carbon and Monroe counties that supply drinking water to the Bethlehem area, as well as owns the Bethlehem water system and leases it to the city to operate.
Authority officials and Atlantic Wind entered into an agreement March 6, 2013, to permit the study of the watershed’s potential for wind-power generation. The authority has been receiving $10,000 a year for nearly five years, with that amount set to rise to $100,000 annually for another five years beginning next month.
At its regular meeting at 3:30 p.m. today in City Hall, the authority board is being asked to postpone that increase until April.
Atlantic Wind would sell the electricity generated to a transmission company. Once the turbines are operational, the authority is due to receive annually from the company at least $100,000, or 3 percent of gross revenues estimated at $8,000 to $15,000 per turbine for 25 years.
Atlantic Wind filed the new application Monday for a special exception from the Penn Forest Township Zoning Hearing Board.
“We’re continually listening to community concerns and remain focused on our effort to deliver a clean energy and economic development opportunity to the region,” Craig Poff, business development director for Avengrid, says in a statement. “We’re constantly evaluating ways to make every wind farm have as small a footprint as possible, and as a result, we submitted an application for a Penn Forest wind farm that takes advantage of newer turbine technology to shrink the number of turbines.”
Reducing the number of turbines “means fewer roads and a reduced construction impact,” Poff continued.
Atlantic Wind is looking for zoning approval for the wind turbines, roads, permanent meteorological towers, an electrical substation and overhead and underground electrical and data cables and transmission lines. The total project area is 4,917 acres.
This proposal differs from the application submitted April 1, 2016, in that it has a reduced footprint and reduced length of access roads and disturbance area and removes a proposed operation and safety building.
The location of the northernmost turbines has “changed considerably and moved further away from residences (the closest turbine is over a mile away from any home in Towamensing Trails and Hickory Run Estates neighborhood and over 2,100 feet away from any home in Beltzville Lake Estates),” Atlantic Wind’s zoning application states.
The maximum height of each wind turbine would be 600 feet, with the lowest position of the rotor 25 feet off the ground, according to the application.
Atlantic Wind in its new application renews its request for an independent attorney to serve as hearing officer and render a decision. Following a contentious review of the original plan, Atlantic Wind proposes hearings at the township building or another venue “where police presence can be available to ensure safety and security of all interested parties.”
Atlantic Wind agrees to reimburse the township for meeting costs, and would share in costs of televising the hearings.
The company asks that the proposal be reviewed as soon as possible by the township planning commission.
Atlantic Wind won approval last year from Penn Forest by exploiting a technicality related to a delay in the township’s scheduling of a hearing as part of its review. The resulting “deemed approved” status was upheld in a ruling Dec. 29 by Carbon County Judge Steven R. Serfass.
Township residents Phillip C. Malitsch and Christopher Mangold filed an appeal of the deemed approval, but Serfass’ ruling barred the zoning hearing board from any further action, The (Lehighton) Times News reports.
Penn Forest Township supervisors decided this week they will not join in appealing Serfass’ decision, according to the report.
Poff, from Atlantic Wind, states: “As our initial proposal for a Penn Forest wind farm proceeds through litigation, this separate proposal represents an effort to address concerns we’ve heard while still bringing forward a clean energy proposal that can deliver substantial economic opportunities for the area.”
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