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Part II: Borough Council VP Bill Latchford’s Q&A about Gamesa’s proposed wind farm on Ice Mountain

(Editor’s note: The following is part two of a two part Q&A series with Councilperson Latchford. The first part appeared in Thursday’s edition of The Daily Herald.)
Bill Latchford serves on Tyrone Borough Council as vice-president and he is coming up on his 14th year as a council member. He has been researching Gamesa’s proposed 10 to 15 wind mills on the borough’s watershed property since the proposal was announced over a year ago, and this is the second installment of his interview with The Daily Herald to answer questions about his experience thus far in the decision making process of an issue of this magnitude and importance.
Yesterday, the first part of the series ended with Latchford talking about how he thought the money gained from the proposed wind farm could be used to benefit the people in the Borough of Tyrone.
What are the benefits of wind as an alternative energy source?
When a wind plant goes online, that energy it produces is the least expensive energy to provide because the fuel doesn’t cost anything. Coal-fired plants, which are the most expensive around, are backed down for that electricity to come online. If both are putting power out, the grid can’t handle that, so when a wind plant is dumping energy into the grid, a coal-fired plant is backing down somewhere for it. The opponents say that’s not the case, they say coal-fired plants are running in stand-by mode when wind plants are putting out power, and I can’t really prove that they do or don’t. If the coal-fired plants are backing down, they’re not putting out as much CO2 and they’re not burning as much coal. You have to start somewhere. We have no other technology right now other than wind that can do this.
Do the wind mills run all the time producing electricity?
People say Pennsylvania is not conducive to wind energy, but along the ridge tops it does fairly well. People say the wind mills only run 30 percent of the electricity, but what they’re not stating is, 60 to 80 percent of the time you are still getting something out of it. So it’s producing something almost up to 80 percent of the time. It’s not like it’s just sitting there idle for 60 to 80 percent of the time.
How loud are the wind mills based on your experience visiting other wind farms?
These things run as long as there is wind and they will be searching for the best place they can turn, and they can turn 360 degrees, and they make a noise when they turn. The blades pitch or turn themselves to find the wind also, 24 hours a day. When the blades start to pitch, they start to thump really bad because they’re not efficient until they get in their right position. They make a heckuva racket. I could feel it in my chest as it was doing that up there at Allegheny Ridge. Imagine a bunch of them doing that, it can create a duration of a lot of racket. And once they’re in their spots, you’re back to the noise of a plane flying around at 30,000 feet. If this is the best Gamesa can do, then they have a problem. In Tyrone Borough, the people will probably not hear them because they will be four miles away.
Do you think wind mill development can effect property values?
For anyone to say that property values aren’t hurt by this is wrong. I went to a house where six of these wind mills were facing down on me. The house is 2,000 feet away and you can plainly see them in front of you as if it’s right there, that’s how close they feel. They are gigantic devices and I have to say I am amazed by them, but would I want to look at them that close to me? No I wouldn’t. The people in Tyrone that will be affected by our proposed wind farm are the people who live on top of Decker Hollow Road, by the old apple orchard. Those people will see and hear the wind mills. I’m going Saturday on top of Decker Hollow Road and look to see the mountain they will be on and try to imagine what it will be like.
What about those who live on top of Decker Hollow Road? Do they have a say?
They do have a say in it in Snyder Township, but the thing is, if the borough’s side of it, say 15 to 20 wind mills, is that enough in Gamesa’s mind to say it’s still worth doing if the borough says “yes”? We’re still putting 15 across from them, and if you think about boundary lines, they’re invisible – what’s another 5 to 10 wind mills setting right there? If the borough says “no”, will Gamesa just want to put 5 to 7 of them up? The borough plays a big role in this, but it’s not just up to borough council. It’s also up to the borough authority. The borough authority could still say “no”. The people in Snyder Township don’t deserve the borough to say they’re going to go there without thinking of them also; we’re only good neighbors by thinking of them.
What’s the borough authority’s role in the decision making process?
The borough leased all of our properties to an authority that was created to oversee the rates and things like that, and what that means is the borough council can’t re-lease that property to Gamesa, the borough authority has to. Borough council could say “yes”, but the authority could say “no” and trump it. If we say “no”, I think then we have the main role I believe. But in a “yes” situation, they can still stop it. The authority is a group of borough residents and they’re the lease holders of the property right now, we manage everything.
How important is it for you to vote based on how the majority of borough residents feel?
The opponents say 70 percent of the people oppose this project, but it’s 70 percent of about 50 people, which means only 30 people care and that’s not a good representation. We have 5,800 people in this town, we can’t let 30 people decide this, even though there’s only eight of us on council. The people’s vote in this borough itself is what makes the difference. It is up to eight council members to decide whether this is going to happen or not. When something’s really important, that’s when we hear from people. If we’re just paving a street we don’t hear anything about it, but something this dramatic, people want to have a voice and they deserve to. If you pay taxes in this town, I am your employee. This is by far the hardest decision that I’ve ever had to deal with in the borough. It effects the whole community. If you show me one thousand signatures of Tyrone Borough residents on a petition that says they don’t want this wind farm, then that represents a good chunk of the borough. There’s only 1,000 people who vote in the borough, and personally, if you don’t vote you shouldn’t have a say in government business.
Do you feel Gamesa is pushing council to vote soon?
I don’t think they’re pushing very hard. They’re pushing a little bit, but who wouldn’t? They want to get the money flowing now. But, in my opinion, I don’t think we’re being pushed hard at all, and personally, I don’t care how long it takes – if the mountain and wind is going to be there, it’s going to be there four years from now. The longer I have to research it, the better decision I will make. Once it’s done it’s done, there’s no turning back, and that’s why I’m glad we’re taking our time on this decision. It is an evolving topic that deserves every ounce of attention I can give it. But, we as a council haven’t talked about when we’ll vote on this.
Some say you have been flip-flopping on the wind farm issue, how do you feel about that?
I knew absolutely nothing about wind mills whenever this came up. You learn something new everyday. When somebody asks me about it, I’m not going to say “no comment”, I say right now, until I get this information, I’m standing right here. So yes, I’m sitting on the fence the whole entire time and I don’t think that’s wrong with a decision that is this important. You’ll know my final answer when I’m asked in a role call, “yay or nay, Mr. Latchford”.
If you voted today, how would you vote?
My vote right now would be “no” because there are sound issues that affect a neighboring community at the Allegheny Ridge wind farm, and I don’t want to bring that problem to the people of the borough or Snyder Township. As I learn more from this, my vote could always change.