September 15, 2022

Atlantic Wind walks away from watershed plans

By Chris Reber | Times News | September 03. 2022 |

The developer that proposed wind turbines on Bethlehem Authority land in Penn Forest Township is reportedly leaving the project after more than six years.

The authority says that Atlantic Wind LLC is no longer interested in building wind turbines on the authority’s 12,500-acre watershed property in Penn Forest Township.

According to Stephen Repasch, director of the Bethlehem Authority, Atlantic Wind’s decision was because it has other projects in development.

“This one was not at the top of their priority list. The decision was made to let it go,” he said.

The project has been the subject of a long court battle over whether turbines are allowed on the property under the township’s zoning ordinance. The township, and a group of more than 40 residents, have been fighting the project since it was proposed in 2016.

Bethlehem Authority plans to continue the court battle while looking for a new partner to develop the project.

Repasch said even if the courts decide in the authority’s favor, it will be several years before a new developer would be ready to install turbines.

“It’s going to be a fairly long process, Repasch said.

A new developer would likely stick to the plans submitted by the authority and Atlantic Wind – calling for 28 turbines, which would stand nearly 600-feet tall. A new plan would be subject to stricter township zoning regulations on wind turbines, which the township adopted after Atlantic Wind submitted its application.

The ongoing court battle revolves around two issues: Whether the project meets the township’s noise standards, and zoning rules which state a property can only have one principal use.

The township and residents have argued in court that wind energy is a second principal use for the property, in addition to producing potable water for the City of Bethlehem.

A county court judge ruled in favor of the township in 2020. Earlier this year, a state appeals court judge partly reversed the decision.

She said wind energy was not an illegal second use, because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the property was already used for water production. Also, Bethlehem Authority’s land is made up of many smaller parcels.

The judge also ruled that the zoning hearing board must reconsider the case using a different noise standard.

The township and residents appealed that decision to the state supreme court in April. The state supreme court has still not announced whether it will hear the appeal.

Repasch said that the project is still a good idea because it provides green energy, and revenue for the authority, while disturbing less than 100 acres of its watershed – which has 12,500 acres in Penn Forest Township alone.

“I personally think, given the energy needs of this society, that it’s the way to go,” he said.

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