Company cancels Shaffer Mountain wind power project

Third Pa. turbine axed this month over tax credits

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Gamesa Inc. has canceled a controversial wind power project it planned to build on Shaffer Mountain, a major flyway for migrating hawks, eagles and bats along the border of Somerset and Bedford counties.

The Spanish wind company, which owns other wind turbine production and power generation facilities in Pennsylvania, announced Monday it would abandon the project because of uncertain federal wind power subsidy policies and concerns the wind turbines could harm the endangered Indiana bat.

It is the third Pennsylvania wind turbine installation canceled in the past month due to the possible end of the federal tax credit program that has driven wind power development for more than a decade.

Gamesa's 30-turbine, 60-megawatt commercial wind power project on 22,000 ridge-top acres was scheduled for construction this year and next, and was to come on line in 2013. But its location stirred opposition from environmental, conservation and sportsmen's organizations, almost from the time it was proposed in 2006.

In November, a coalition of four of those organizations threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for issuing an opinion allowing the turbines to be built near a maternity colony of Indiana bats. After that the service agreed to reconsider its opinion.

"I'm really happy. It took five and a half years, a lot of time and effort was spent opposing this project and I'm glad it's over for now," said John Buchan, an attorney and leader of local opposition to the project.

Mr. Buchan said the project's potential impacts on the migratory bird corridor and Piney Run and Clear Shade Creek, two of the state's 28 "exceptional value" trout streams were good reasons to oppose the project, but the bat issue was the legal key.

"Indiana bats are endangered," he said, "and combined with the white nose syndrome epidemic that's wiping out whole populations of bats in the state, that got the Fish and Wildlife Service's attention."

Laura Jackson, a leader of Save Our Allegheny Ridges, a local wind power opposition group, said the Gamesa project was proposed for the wrong place.

"The location was a really sensitive environmental area and really was not an appropriate setting for such an industrial project," Ms. Jackson said. "Gamesa was looking at financial considerations as the basis of its decision to build there, but some of us feel that financial gain is not the No. 1 thing in life."

David Rosenberg, Gamesa vice president for marketing and communications, said the company will continue to play a role in the state's manufacturing economy despite its decision to halt the Shaffer Mountain project.

"Like others in the industry, Gamesa is concerned about the long-term effects of uncertainty surrounding federal policies, including the Production Tax Credit, as the U.S. market remains a priority," he said. "However, our company continues to seek new opportunities to use our U.S. facilities to serve other markets -- including Canada, Central America and South America -- where projects are pending."

Federal production tax credits give wind power developers a 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour credit for the production of renewable energy, which reduces the taxes paid by the industry by $2.63 billion annually.

Congressional leaders have threatened to end the tax credits -- which were also allowed to lapse in 1999, 2001 and 2003 -- before action was taken to revive and extend them.

In 2011, U.S. wind projects generated 48,611 megawatts, with about 800 of those megawatts produced by turbines at 17 wind power projects on Pennsylvania's ridges.

Wind power supplies just a little less than 1 percent of the state's energy needs.

region - businessnews

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published June 13, 2012 12:00 AM


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