Locals hear varying perspectives on proposed Jacks Mountain wind turbines

BELLEVILLE – About 200 people were seated in the auditorium of the Locust Grove Mennonite Church, Friday evening to hear the different perspectives on the proposed wind turbines for Jacks and Stone mountains.

There were four speakers throughout the meeting which included Dennis Stout, Development Manager for E.ON Climate & Renewables North America, Laura Jackson, president of Save Our Allegheny Ridges, Greg Grove, founder of Stone Mountain Hawk Watch, and Cassie Schaeffer, a senior at Hood College who is also a resident of Belleville. During the meeting all four were able to speak individually on the varying perspectives of wind turbines.

Stout said what he does, besides being a wind farm developer, is educate people.

“Today I educate people on what wind turbines mean for them and for the community at large,” Stout said. “I also understand that you are here because you are concerned. We as a company want to respect you, your mountain, and your way of life.”

Stout continued to speak about why E.ON is looking to build the turbines in both Mifflin County and in a small section of Huntingdon County.

“An initial study suggested that wind source is good here,” Stout said. “We have a meteorological test tower on Stone Mountain, that has produced data telling us the wind speed is just over seven meters per second.”

The wind speed on another project in Somerset County Pa., called Stony Creek, is only slightly higher than what has been measured on Stone Mountain. While E.ON has not decided if wind turbines will be on Stone Mountain, Stout said the wind source is stronger on Jacks Mountain where most of the wind turbines are planned. He said they cannot confirm that until they build a test tower there to verify the information.

Don Wert, Union Township resident, asked Stout why the wind source data from E.ON differs from the Renewable Energy Laboratory which has shown the wind source is not as strong as what E.ON has reported. Stout said they have the equipment measuring just this area, while the laboratory tries to cover a large area. He also said they use the laboratory for some of the basic information, before building the test tower and gathering the data.

Stout and Jackson both talked about the effect wind turbines have on property values, during their presentations. Stout said in the studies they have conducted property values have either stayed the same or have increased. Jackson contradicted him saying she has found studies that show property values have dropped, because of negative effects from the turbines on or near the property. She also said she has talked to people trying to sell homes with wind turbines near them and has found that owners have had a hard time selling the properties in question.

Fern Harman, a Menno Township resident, asked Jackson what impact the township supervisors have in saying “no” to having the wind turbines built. Jackson responded saying that all the supervisors can do is pass ordinances that the companies have to follow, because in Pennsylvania it is illegal for a township or county to say “no” to a legitimate company that wants to build wind turbines. Stout also said E.ON goes above and beyond in the studies and work they do to make sure they know what building the turbines will do to the surrounding area.

“There have been times that we have had to move an entire row of turbines, because of a rare or endangered plant,” Stout said. “We have also moved a turbine because a study found we were too close to a populated bat area.”

Schaeffer said she was able to do a study in a small town, similar to Belleville, in Garret County, Md. There she found that the people who were for the wind turbines did not live near them and those against were actively feeling the effects. Schaeffer said one of these residents included a man with a pacemaker who had to move from his home after 20 years because the noise was affecting his pacemaker. Stout said he has never heard of something like this happening, he said health studies are something that needs to be looked into.

Grove said about 14 species of raptor birds migrate through the area every year and asked what a tower would do to these migrations. Stout said the amount of birds that come into the path of the turbines now, is fewer than when the first turbines were built, due to the advancement in technology. Many birds are able to see the new blades better and are able to avoid them.

Stout said he encourages those who are worried to see a wind turbine in person, he even said those interested could visit one of E.ON’s farms to see first hand what the company does and how they work with regulations.

“Nothing is set in stone here yet,” Stout said. “Many more studies need to be done and we want to have the studies to make sure we are making the best decisions for the mountain.”

He said nothing is being done under the table and the company welcomes questions from those in the community. Jackson and Stout both said they would like to see an end situation that is the best solution for all involved.