In recent years, public support for renewable energy generation has increased across the United States. According to a recent article published by the National Agricultural Law Center, 89% of Americans support expanding solar power generation and 83% support wind power expansion. See, Peggy Kirk Hall, Whitney Morgan and Jesse Richardson, “Land Use Conflicts Between Wind and Solar Renewable Energy and Agricultural Uses,” Nat’l Ag. Law Center (Jan. 10, 2022). National approval, however, often fails to translate into local support. Those seeking to site wind or solar projects are frequently met with opposition from neighbors, many of whom may be generally supportive of renewable energy, but when it comes time to decide where generation will occur, they repeat the well-known adage, “Not in my back yard.” In fact, local objection to renewable projects frequently mirrors that which has been levied for decades against traditional energy development. Concerns over aesthetics, noise, storm water, or traffic can be expected whether an applicant proposes an oil and gas well or a wind farm. In either instance, broad concerns over impacts on the community often devolve into highly technical debates over compliance with not only the local ordinances, but the validity or reliability of different scientific methods or standards. As a result, zoning hearings on any energy project may become full-blown battles of the experts. In Atlantic Wind v. Zoning Hearing Board of Penn Forest Township, No. 585 C.D. 2020, No. 591 C.D. 2020, No. 20 C.D. 2021, No. 242 C.D. 2021, (Pa. Cmwlth. Jan. 12, 2022), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court considered whether a zoning hearing board properly handled competing expert testimony over what metrics to use in calculating maximum noise levels.
In 2013, Atlantic Wind, LLC (Atlantic Wind) entered into a lease with the Bethlehem Authority (authority), for property located in Penn Forest Township (the township). The lease granted Atlantic Wind the right to use approximately 5,000 acres of the authority’s property (the project area) for wind energy purposes. In 2015, Atlantic Wind filed an application for a special exception under the Township Zoning Ordinance (ordinance) to erect 28 wind turbines with access roads, appurtenant structures, and infrastructure, including a permanent meteorological tower.
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