TYRONE – In July, when a representative of Algonquin Power Co. visited Borough Council to outline plans for doubling the size of the 50-megawatt Sandy Ridge Wind Farm on Ice Mountain above the borough, no opposition appeared.
On Monday, it showed up in the form of concerns expressed by two area residents, who told council members of their fears for forest fragmentation, invasive plants and the killing of birds and bats.
Those concerns didn’t elicit much response from council members – Mayor Bill Latchford afterward said they are the same concerns expressed before council approved the initial construction of the wind farm in 2011.
Gary Miller of Tipton, a biologist, said he was a supporter of wind power when it was first introduced, thinking it was free of cost and clear of pollution.
But as it has developed over the past generation, it has turned out not to be the “panacea we thought,” he told council.
Wind power is appropriate in the open spaces of the Midwest, but not so good for central Pennsylvania’s ridgetops, he said.
He said he doesn’t believe the reported claim of the Algonquin representative that the 25 turbines on Ice Mountain, 16 of which are on borough watershed in Snyder Township, have killed no birds of prey.
He cited a Game Commission estimate that each turbine kills 25 bats per year on average.
He also “begged to differ” with Latchford’s reported claim that environmental problems predicted initially by opponents of the wind farm haven’t materialized.
Moreover, wind farms don’t do much to reduce the number of conventional power plants because they’re energy production is sporadic, so the energy grid still requires the presence of the conventional plants to guarantee sufficient supply, Miller said.
Jody Wallace of Tyrone first outlined her commitment to environmentalism, saying she owns wind energy stock and operates her home and business on solar and geothermal power, before asking the borough to enact restrictions on the proposed expansion to mitigate the potential harm.
“I value birds, bats and wildlife more than my (wind power stock) dividends,” said Wallace, who conceded that the expansion is probably a done deal. “We need to think of the greater good.”
Her proposed restrictions include a requirement that the company refrain from operating the turbines in low wind conditions in the fall to protect the bats, which she said would only reduce power output by a small percentage; that the company follow a Game Commission protocol for monitoring bird and bat killings, then make those findings public; and that the company be required to buy as many acres as it acquires for the expansion and declare them to be under protection of a conservation easement.
She also asked that the borough direct some of its annual rental fee for the project toward environmental education, while considering an investment in solar and geothermal energy for its own needs.
A solar panel on the borough building would be “a shining example,” Wallace said.
Latchford, who thinks the towers are “majestic,” visits the nearest few turbines periodically and hasn’t seen carcasses of slaughtered birds or bats, although he hasn’t “scoured” the area, he said.
He doesn’t know enough to recognize whether invasive species have appeared on the margins of the open areas, but knows that the turbines contribute a steady share to the “reservoir” that is the electric grid, he said.
Before the initial approval, he took lots of abuse and figures the borough established precedence for the expansion, he said.
He doesn’t know what new grounds would be presented to prevent that expansion, he said.