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Schuylkill public comment on wind energy

Proponents of wind energy spoke during the public comment portion of the Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the commissioners took the step of declaring the county’s current zoning ordinance as “substantially invalid with respect to the use of property for the establishment and operation” of certain business ventures. The board made the move in response to residents’ concerns about a potential wind turbine project in the Tower City area, specifically in Porter and Hegins townships.

In 2010, when the Schuylkill County Zoning Ordinance was last revised, business ventures such as natural gas compression stations, growing and dispensing facilities for medical marijuana and wind turbines were not on the radar. Declaring the ordinance “substantially invalid” was a step to give the county time – 180 days – to develop an amendment to the existing ordinance.

During the commissioners’ meeting Wednesday, members of a group called Schuylkill Indivisible spoke in favor of renewable energy, including wind power.

“We aren’t opposed to updating the zoning ordinance,” said Schuylkill Indivisible co-chairwoman Lisa Von Ahn of Pottsville. “We are just as concerned about public health, safety and quality of life when it comes to wind farms as we are when it comes to pipelines, compressor stations, fracking, drilling and mining.”

“We are simply asking for fair zoning that takes the advantages of wind farms into account and does not favor fossil fuel operations over them,” she continued. “Renewable energy is creating more jobs than fossil fuel, with many health and safety risks including the carbon emissions linked to climate change.”

The 180-day time span for an amendment to a zoning ordinance was established by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1968 as the necessary period needed to include development and review by county planners, public comment and official adoption of the revision.

During the meeting, county solicitor Glenn Roth said that county officials have been reviewing the existing county zoning ordinance for about a year, seeing “no provision anywhere” for wind farms and other new businesses, such as marijuana dispensaries. During those 180 days, Roth explained, no permits will be issued for those uses.

In recent weeks, Tower City resident Virginia Morton had spoken during the public comment portion of commissioners’ meetings to express her concern about a potential wind turbine project in her area. Morton said that a company called Clean Air Generation had leased 12,672 acres owned by Rausch Creek LLC, which includes acreage in Hegins and Porter townships.

Porter Township uses the county zoning ordinance; Hegins Township has its own. Morton said that the project could encompass 4 townships and include 75 to 100 wind turbines. During a meeting last month, Hegins Township also adopted a resolution declaring its zoning ordinance “substantively invalid” and has 180 days to create a new ordinance.