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Gamesa answers questions brought up at Save Ice Mountain public forum

At Wednesday evening’s Save Ice Mountain public forum, the opposition to Gamesa’s proposed 10 to 15 turbine wind farm on Tyrone Borough’s watershed property on Ice Mountain, presented information on the potential negative environmental impacts of wind turbines and Gamesa Energy USA’s questionable construction methods and siting.
The forum speakers talked about wind power generation in Pennsylvania, along with wildlife and water resource impacts a wind farm on Ice Mountain could have.
Gamesa Project Developer Josh Framel stated that the opposition to the Sandy Ridge Wind Farm, which includes the borough’s proposed site, still has misconceptions about the clean energy project.
“It’s even more disappointing that the opposition continue to paint the project as an instrument of wildlife and resource destruction,” said Framel. “The characterization is way off-base.”
According to Gamesa’s 20-year operation record, the company has built more than 33,500 turbine blades and helped to develop hundreds of wind farms worldwide; and boasts a superior record for operational performance. Last year, Gamesa was selected to join the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, which lists 318 of the leading companies based on economics, social and environmental criteria. Only the top 10 percent of 2,500 eligible companies worldwide are selected to join the index.
Framel said that Gamesa is using the same “careful” approach at its proposed Sandy Ridge project. He stated that the Ice Mountain site contains “excellent sustained winds to produce clean electricity,” adding that Gamesa understands the effects of development and takes care to work in the most environmentally sound manner.
“The area is remote and located a good distance away from homes, and the work can be done with minimal disturbances to habitat or wildlife and could result in actual improvement to the watershed and forest,” said Framel.
He added, “There are existing roads that enable access, and nearby transmission lines to connect to the grid where the electricity can be fed. Repairs to existing roads actually will help to reduce erosion and sedimentation, and all but a 15-foot-wide gravel portion of roadway will be replanted with a wildlife-friendly seed mixture to protect the state’s rich hunting traditions.”
Gamesa states that the clearing around each turbine is only 0.8 acres, which would minimize impacts to the surrounding forest. Framel said the entire project incorporates nine miles of existing roads and only five miles of new road.
Residents near the Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm have recently come to Tyrone to talk about the noise issue that they have fell victim to, but Framel said that the turbines for Tyrone aren’t even located within the borough limits. Gamesa stated that the company has conducted several sound surveys and noise assessments in and around the Sandy Ridge project area.
“Pre-existing background sound levels were recorded at various locations near the site, and the assessment found no adverse noise impact,” said Framel. “Sound was modeled as coming downwind from each turbine in every direction at once, and conservative modeling was implemented to actually overestimate project sound.”
Being that Tyrone’s proposed wind farm site is on its watershed property, impacts on the borough’s water quality is a big reason why some people oppose the project, but Gamesa says there is no science to back up the claims of adversely impacting the water quality.
Framel noted that Gamesa’s Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm currently operates in an “exceptional value” watershed without any effect on streams in Cambria County, adding that part of the wind farm is located on Portage Municipal Water Authority property with no impacts on the creeks there either.
“An independent hydrological engineer testified that Gamesa’s best management practices at the proposed Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm in Somerset and Bedford counties would bring a net benefit to water quality and groundwater availability post construction, partly because of our approach to installation that includes fixing existing roads,” added Framel.
Gamesa states that wind farms are not industrial developments. The Blair County Conservation Plan includes a section on development, which states: “Working with environmental consultants, developers can consider options for development that add value and protect key resources.”
“The benefits a wind farm can bring make this a reasonably and appropriate development for the area,” said Framel. He cited that Tyrone Borough’s forester reported that revenue generated from the lease agreement could be used to improve the forest area by addressing other problems on the watershed property.
Gamesa also feels that the proposed Ice Mountain site can avoid conflicts with birds. Kim Van Fleet addressed some of the bird issues at the public forum Wednesday. Framel says the National Audubon Society, citing links to global warming, states that at least 20 percent of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at greater risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceeds 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
“National environmental protection laws apply to all wind projects,” said Framel. “Pennsylvania has another layer of consultation and review by wildlife agencies. Avian surveys are coordinated with and reviewed by the PA Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
“These safeguards ensure that impacts remain low and wind energy is developed responsibly,” added Framel.
Gamesa feels the environmental and economic benefits of wind for communities like Tyrone are “indisputable.” With the lease the borough is considering presently, once the wind farm is fully operational, Tyrone would receive $7,000 per wind turbine on its property for the next 30 years. The guaranteed minimum would be between $70,000 and $105,000 annually, which the borough can use any way it chooses for the benefit of the community.
“Gamesa has a real stake in how it performs in the communities we operate,” said Framel. “We’re more than a company that develops wind farms; we’re a local business that employs more than 350 people in the Laurel Highlands and Allegheny Mountain regions.”
He added, “The fact is that in a little more than three years, Gamesa has invested $175 million in Pennsylvania and created 1,260 jobs statewide.”