Somerset windmill plan judged deficient by state
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A controversial proposal to build 30 wind turbines in an ecologically sensitive watershed containing a wilderness trout stream on Shaffer Mountain in northeastern Somerset County has been judged deficient by the state.
A Feb. 22 letter from the state Department of Environmental Protection identifies more than two dozen deficiencies and concerns in the wind turbine permit application of Gamesa Energy USA, a Spanish wind power developer and turbine manufacturer. It requests additional information.
The technical review letter also invites the company to respond to 22 issues raised in public comments on the proposal to build the 404-foot-tall turbines and 18 miles of service roads in the watershed of Piney Run and Clear Shade Creek, two of the state's 28 "exceptional value" streams, a designation reserved for creeks with the highest water quality and biological diversity.
Opponents of the project say the DEP letter indicates the state is seriously reviewing independent studies they have submitted that show the project will damage the watershed, fragment the forest and hurt tourism and state endangered bat, rat and rattlesnake species.
"This wind project proposal is sited in one of the worst places they could put it in the state," said John Buchan, a leader of the local opposition to the project. He noted that Piney Run is also designated a Wilderness Trout Stream, with one of the last remnant populations of eastern native brook trout.
The site, along the eastern edge of the Allegheny Plateau, is also along a migratory pathway for numerous raptor species and in the middle of a Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Area of Exceptional Significance.
Ellen Lutz, Gamesa director of development, said the review letter is "part of the process" and "not unusual."
Gamesa, which was invited to the state by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2004 and manufactures turbines in Ebensburg, Cambria County, has built 41 wind turbines of an eventual 75 at its Allegheny Ridge Project on Blue Ridge Mountain, 15 miles north of Shaffer Mountain.
Tim Vought, Gamesa's project developer, said the Allegheny Ridge Project is also built in an exceptional value watershed and has had no impact on water quality there.
"We feel this project is sited appropriately," he said. "We are aware of all the concerns and see this (letter) mainly as an opportunity for a clarification of information already presented."
Pennsylvania is the leading producer of wind energy east of the Mississippi River, generating 153 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 70,000 homes. The Rendell administration has set a goal of adding more than 3,000 megawatts of wind power in the next 15 years.
The Shaffer Mountain wind turbine facility would generate 66 megawatts.
Unlike Canada, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, Pennsylvania has no regulations for siting wind turbine projects. Instead it relies on voluntary guidelines negotiated by the state Game Commission and the wind power industry that have no enforcement provisions.
The DEP permit is required because the development is in an exceptional value watershed.
Mr. Buchan said the local citizens group has approached area legislators to push for passage of a law to stop wind turbine development in pristine areas like Shaffer Mountain.
"This is an untouched area with a cluster of environmentally sensitive issues," Mr. Buchan said. "We hope to get Gamesa to see the light. If not, we'll fight it for as long as it takes."
First Published February 27, 2008 12:00 am