While a battle over wind turbines plays out in court, Penn Forest Township officials want to be more prepared if another proposal comes along.
The supervisors are preparing to pass new regulations for wind turbine projects.
The regulations, which will be up for a final vote on Feb. 4, would only affect projects which are started after that date. The controversial wind energy project proposed on the Bethlehem Water Authority watershed would not be subject to the rules.
The new rules are available on the township website and at the township municipal building on Route 903.
The township hired a consulting firm to create the new rules as well as a wind consultant.
The consultant, Charlie Schmehl, said the new rules are the toughest he has ever seen on wind energy.
“This is the most comprehensive wind ordinance I’ve ever worked on or even seen,” he said.
On top of that, he said, it will hold up in court if challenged by a wind company that feels they are overly restrictive.
Wind turbines are allowed as a special exception in the township’s residential zone.
Townships can’t prohibit uses such as wind turbines. If they don’t provide a specific place where they are allowed, a developer could win the right to place them anywhere they want in the township.
At a meeting Wednesday night, residents had a chance to comment on the proposed regulations.
Marcus Laurence said that the new rules aren’t perfect, but he believes they’re something everyone can agree on.
Some residents questioned why the turbines are still allowed in the residential district.
“We’ve provided industrial land for industrial use,” said Kurt Thalheimer.
Schmehl said the residential district is the largest, which means they can require large setbacks from nearby buildings. Under the new rules, a turbine would have to be set back four times the height of the turbine (plus blade) from the nearest property line.
If the turbines were allowed in the much smaller commercial or industrial districts, the setback would have to be smaller, or else the ordinance could be overturned in court.
“If you put this in an industrial district with a 2-mile setback, that’s saying they can’t have it. We’d go to court and lose in 15 minutes,” said township solicitor Thomas Nanovic.
Linda Snyder said she hopes the ordinance is backed up with facts, and that the board is concerned with the health and safety of township residents.
“If you dig 35 feet down, and the groundwater is only 8 feet, you’re running into all kinds of trouble,” she said.
John Cihiy wanted the supervisors to consider the findings from a recent World Health Organization report on wind turbines.
Sam Trangone was concerned that the township wouldn’t be prepared to enforce their standards if a wind turbine exceeded 45 db, the new standard in the township.
Following the public comment period, the supervisors made a motion to approve the new regulations at their Feb. 4 meeting.
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