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Winds of change calmed: PGC declares moratorium on wind turbines

After rejecting 19 of 19 proposals for wind turbines since 2005, the Pennsylvania Game Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a moratorium on wind energy developments on its 1.5 million acres of state game lands.

The vote occurred at the end of a 50-minute meeting in Harrisburg and wasn’t part of the agenda; however, the board did discuss wind energy at a work group meeting March 26.

While rejecting wind projects, the commission has a long history of leasing game lands to oil and gas drillers and loggers.

One-quarter of the commission’s revenues, or $26.4 million, came from leases and rights-of-way for gas and other natural resources, according to the commission’s annual report to the Legislature for 2017. Timber sales accounted for another $10 million.

In the resolution, the commissioners recognized the value of wind in the state’s energy plans but said there is a high probability that wind turbines are inconsistent with the commission’s mission of protecting wildlife and providing recreational opportunities.

One commissioner said a wind farm developer still might win rights to build turbines on state game land by trading land that has high value to hunters.

While well pads and other gas and oil installations effectively make some land unavailable to hunters, so would wind turbines, which also can kill birds and bats that the commission is charged with managing. Both wind and gas projects also require access roads and paths for pipelines or transmission lines.

Well pads impact 964 acres of game lands, and the commission manages agreements on oil, gas and mineral development for 169,000 acres, or a little more than 10 percent of its game lands, the annual report said.

Moreover, the annual report said 47 of 79 wells fracked on game lands since 2010 were on land where the commission doesn’t own oil and gas rights.

On Tuesday, for example, the commissioners approved a natural gas lease in Greene County with a company that has the ability to remove gas from the beneath game land using wells drilled on adjoining land. The company, Greylock Productions, will pay a bonus of $2.15 million into a fund for buying or managing game lands. Greylock also will pay a royalty of 18 percent on all gas sold, and that money will enter the commission’s Game Fund.