Mifflin County Planning Commission discusses, reviews wind energy draft ordinance

LEWISTOWN – A wind energy draft ordinance was the focus of discussion during the Mifflin County Planning Commission Meeting held Thursday afternoon.

Bill Gomes, director of the county’s Planning Department, said this ordinance is going to give a good guidance system to townships and boroughs when adopting their own wind energy ordinance. In fact, Oliver Township is using the draft from the planning commission as a reference while creating its own ordinance, Gomes said.

This ordinance highlights concerns which have been brought up at other meetings to discuss the wind turbines. It also highlights the difference between Accessory Wind Energy Facilities and Principal Wind Energy Facilities. An AWEF is a wind mill located on private property and only being used for that property. A PWEF is a wind turbine facility or farm, such as those being proposed on Jacks Mountain and Stone Mountain by Volkswind and E.On – two wind turbine companies. Some of the ordinance’s key provisions for PWEF involve concerns with noise requirements, setback requirements, changes to the scenic view, shadow flicker, decommissioning, and environmental concerns.

Gomes said this draft is still a work in progress and areas are still being addressed based on concerns of the public and the commission. One of the concerns regards the environment and more specifically, the water reservoir supplies. It was brought to the attention of the commission that many residents in Big Valley use water that runs off from Jacks Mountain, and one concern is that construction of the wind turbines could disrupt that water supply or change it.

The draft, as of right now, would require the building distance of any wind turbine to be at least 1,000 feet away from the start of the water supply on the mountain. The commission is looking to bring in a hydrogeologist, a person who studies the groundwater movement through soil and rock, to determine what is the actual safe distance needed for the turbines to be built in relation to the mountain water supply.

Volkswind has offered comments on some areas of the draft, with concerns about the setback provisions in the ordinance, which establish the minimum distances that any turbine must be from private property or an occupied building. Gomes supplied documentation explaining that Volkswind believes the current setback limitations would make it more difficult to build the turbines, which they believe will boost the local economy. However, Gomes said, as of right now there is insufficient evidence to determine exactly how the turbines could be an economic benefit.

“While there would be a slight boost during the construction, not many local residents would be involved with the building phase,” Gomes said. “We are here to protect the residents first and then cater to the business.”

Gomes also said he encourages Mifflin County residents to come to the planning commission meetings to voice their concerns and be involved in the process. The draft ordinance is available for public review; interested residents can contact Gomes at 242-0887 or email at wgomes@co.mifflin.pa.us.

Also discussed at the meeting:

Six subdivision and land development plans were reviewed and the commission is going to offer comments to the involved municipalities on the plans.

The next meeting of the Mifflin County Planning Commission will be at 3:30p.m. on Dec. 19 at the Mifflin County Court House, second floor Meeting Room A.