Virginia Morton will present a petition to the Schuylkill County Planning Commission on Wednesday regarding wind turbine operations in the county.
Morton, of Tower City, and the grassroots online citizens’ group she’s formed, Schuylkill County Wind Energy Concerns, want to amend the county’s zoning ordinance to permit industrial wind turbines only by special exception. The petition has been circulating at two locations seeking signatures.
The effort is in response to Clean Air Generation LLC leasing 12,672 acres from Rausch Creek Land LLP in Porter, Frailey, Tremont and Hegins townships for a possible industrial wind farm site, although no specific project has yet been proposed.
Morton said she brought her concerns to two meetings of the Porter Township supervisors and was advised to also bring them before the county commissioners.
She recently met with Susan A. Smith, county planning director, to review the current zoning and permitting requirements that any proposed industrial wind energy installation would have to meet prior to approval for construction.
“After reviewing the Section 402 of the Schuylkill County Zoning Ordinance that pertains to the zoning requirements for wind turbine installations and my discussions with Susan, I learned that the process for an industrial installation will be quite straight forward with quite limited oversight from the county required,” Morton said.
“Since the ordinance was adopted in 2010, many changes to the scope, dimensions and capabilities of industrial wind energy projects have occurred that will impact the communities of the county in much more significant ways than were ever anticipated by the county in 2010,” she said in a letter she’ll be presenting along with the petition.
Anyone wishing to sign the petition can do so between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at Tallman Family Farms, 31 Schwalm Road, Tower City, or during operating hours at Gary D. Scheib, Public Accountant, 1431 E. Grand Ave., Tower City.
According to the petition, headlined, “Schuylkill Citizens Against Turbines,” the potential installation could impact more than 8,000 residents of Tower City, Reinerton, Muir, Orwin, Sheridan, Porter Township, Donaldson, Good Spring, Molleystown, Joliett, Keffers, Hegins, Hegins Township, Frailey Township and Tremont Township “in an irreversible and negative manner.”
Hegins Township, unlike the other townships and communities listed, has its own zoning board. The other communities use county zoning, which currently permits wind turbines by right in a CM (conservation/mining) zone, according to Morton.
“As residents of these communities, we want the Schuylkill County Planning Commission to immediately take action to amend the Schuylkill County Zoning Ordinance of 2010 to permit industrial wind turbine installations only by special exception,” the petition states.
More oversight must be added such as height, density, noise and setback limitations; decommissioning bonding when a wind turbine is no longer used; and more environmental studies on neighboring communities, which would include noise, visual, property value and avian impacts, the petition suggests.
According to Morton’s observations:
• In 2010, the height of most wind turbines was in the range of 300 feet. In 2019, many industrial wind turbines are of heights exceeding 500 feet. The Schuylkill County Zoning Ordinance does not address any limits to the height.
• The current ordinance does not address FAA requirements for air traffic warning lights or stipulate conditions or types of warning lights that should be used to minimize impacts on surrounding communities.
• The current ordinance does not require computerized photographic simulation showing a fully developed site and demonstrating any visual impacts.
• The current ordinance does not require any environmental impact statements or review ascertaining impacts on visual impacts, noise impacts, electromagnetic interference or avian impacts.
• The current ordinance does not require any engineering reports on ice throw, blade throw, catastrophic tower failure, shadow flicker or potential fiscal and economic impacts on the property values of the communities immediately adjacent to the project site.
• The current ordinance makes no reference to the impacts on Bendigo and Joe Zerbe airports nor does it address flight impacts on emergency services, or Fort Indiantown Gap.
• The current ordinance setback requirements from road, public right of ways and lot lines are less than current recommendations of 1.5 to 2 times total tower heights.
“Until this curative amendment is passed by the Schuylkill County Planning Commission, all permitting of new wind energy projects for Schuylkill County should be delayed, under the ‘pending ordinance doctrine,’ ” the petition said.
Morton will supply the commission with a model municipal wind siting ordinance developed by the Columbia Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University as a guideline.
She said the Tower City Borough Council passed a resolution in support of the county planning commission reviewing the current wind energy policy and she expected Porter Township to do the same at its meeting last night.
The planning commission meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Schuylkill County Courthouse beginning with a workshop, followed by the formal meeting at 6 p.m. The public comment period is before the 6 p.m. meeting, Morton said.
On a related note, CAG is seeking a curative amendment of Hegins Township’s zoning ordinance. A continuation of that hearing is slated for 6 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Hegins Area Ambulance building in Valley View.