Wind energy developer offers alternative ideas

To the editor:

Regarding wind energy on Jacks Mountain – I would like to share a few main points.

First, a few words concerning the “bigger picture.” There is no dispute about potential adverse impacts of extraction, transportation, and emissions associated with fossil fueled power. Just because we can’t immediately see emissions and pollutants doesn’t mean they are not there and having an impact. Most of us recognize the problem and thus we have seen state and federal renewable or “alternative” energy standards adopted around the country.

I’ve heard it said putting a wind farm on Jacks Mountain is like trying to put out a house fire with a bottle of water. I don’t find this analogy very helpful. Just because the problem seems huge, does that mean we do nothing? No, of course we take steps, however small, to address a problem. They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with single step.

My second point has to do with why Volkswind is working in Pennsylvania. I’ve heard it said, “I’m in favor of wind energy, but not in Pennsylvania. We should build wind farms in the plains, where the wind resource is greatest. Therefore, why are you proposing wind energy on Jacks Mountain? “

Due to distance we cannot provide wind energy to Pennsylvania communities from the prairie states. Furthermore, Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard – AEPS- created in 2004, requires that eligible resources must originate within Pennsylvania or within the PJM regional transmission organization (the bulk of which territory reaches no further West than Ohio). Although Pennsylvania cannot tap the “Saudi Arabia of wind” in Nebraska, there are prudent places for renewables in the huge territory of Pennsylvania and a tremendous in-state wind resource. The key is to proceed prudently, safely and with the greatest regard for the local communities.

A recent Carnegie Mellon University study concluded that officials should not focus on locations having the greatest potential for capacity, but rather on places where the highest number of people would benefit by offsetting the most pollutants. Thus a wind farm in Pennsylvania can deliver more benefits than turbines on the windy Great Plains.

My third point deals with Jacks Mountain specifically, and the local and state permitting processes. When we look for potential wind energy sites, we look for key features such as: adequate wind, which tends to be higher at higher elevations; existing high voltage system, because we interconnect to the bulk transmission system; and land which is not otherwise protected and with owners who can convey the rights to capture wind energy. Jacks Mountain meets these criteria. Most of the Allegheny ridges in Pennsylvania are either in Pennsylvania Game Commission lands or are otherwise protected. Our area of interest on Jacks is already essentially crisscrossed with commercial infrastructure: three major transmission lines; Dominion gas pipeline; radio tower; and Jacks Mountain road, a state highway. None of which interfere with recreational or hunting activities, and neither will a wind project.

Regarding safety, health, wildlife and permitting: In my view, all of the concerns mentioned by SOAR and Friends of Jacks Mountain amount to a need to build trust in the local township, state and federal permitting process and standards to which our project will be held. The question is not: can it be done safely? Rather the proper question is will it be done safely? Yes, the project can be done safely, avoiding watershed degradation, minimizing adverse impacts to wildlife resources, while maintaining recreational and residential uses. There is a laundry list of enhanced “best management practices” the conservation district will require. A project like ours falls under the jurisdiction of, among others, the township ordinances, Mifflin County Conservation District, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Federal Aviation Administration and possibly U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with respect to any U.S. waterways. We understand there are no fewer than four DEP-classified “high quality special protection watersheds” in our area, all of which are subject to design, construct and monitoring standards of local authorities and DEP. Our project will be subject to the highest level of scrutiny under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System – NPDES – permitting administered locally and by DEP. Volkswind is also a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement, which sets forth standard wildlife survey and monitoring protocols.

I understand the concerns – all typical concerns associated with wind energy and with commercial development. However, making absurd and patently false statements about the civil impacts of a project helps no one. False and wild claims create credibility issues for those who make them. The permitting process and regulatory framework is the forum in which to resolve concerns.

A few specific points about wind turbines. Noise: A project would require a noise study taking into account days and nights, make and model of turbine, distances, trees, wind direction, and any other relevant factor, until it is fully understood that noise will not be a factor for nearby residents. Wildlife: A project must follow the Pennsylvania Game Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife standards for wildlife protection. Regarding birds, let me quote from the national Audubon society, which you can read on their website, “Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threat posed to birds and people by climate change. However, we also advocate that wind power facilities should be planned, sited, and operated in ways that minimize harm to birds and other wildlife, and we advocate that wildlife agencies should ensure strong enforcement of the laws that protect birds and other wildlife.” And further, “Audubon strongly supports wind power and recognizes that it will not be without some impact; however, harmful effects to birds and other wildlife can be avoided or significantly reduced in the following ways:

Proper siting and operation of wind farms and equipment;

Development of new technologies that help minimize harm to birds and other wildlife;

Mitigation of habitat and wildlife impacts through conservation measures;

Strong enforcement of existing laws that protect wildlife, including the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”

Watersheds and drinking water: I would urge anyone concerned to become familiar with local district permitting and with the NPDES requirements. I would encourage any private, unregulated water systems or family reservoirs to contact the Conservation District if you have any questions or concerns regarding private water supplies. Visual: Commercial scale wind turbines can reach heights of more than 400 feet. There is no concealing them. I would ask you to consider something. One can also view them as graceful, quiet, and simple monuments to ingenuity to capture an emissions-free, fuel-free, water-use-free source of energy. They symbolize an enlightened, cleaner community; a source of pride.

Pennsylvania has to meet its AEPS. Jacks Mountain appears to be an excellent candidate location. There are substantial local economic benefits: Jobs, landowner income, contracting, property taxes, to name a few. All associated with a major source of emissions-free, fuel-free energy.

Wind energy can never be our only solution, due to its variable nature. It is just one of a portfolio of sources to consider. Unlike fossil-fuel resources, wind’s marginal costs are zero. The long term strategy of many utilities is a combination of fossil fuels – preferably gas due to supplies – and onshore wind energy. We must consider – in fact state policy requires – cleaner ways to produce power. If we keep burning fossil fuels for power at the current rate and method, our house will be on fire, and it will be too late for fire hoses, much less bottles of water.

Jeffrey Wagner

President, Volkswind USA Inc.

Portland, Ore.