(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles that will appear in The Daily Herald to highlight issues that were addressed at Senator John Eichelberger’s town hall meeting held Tuesday night in Tyrone. This article talks about wind development, while the other articles in the series will focus on the Chesapeake Bay clean-up and flood control.)
Pennsylvania’s 30th District Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr. held a public town hall meeting last night at the Tyrone Senior Center. Among the many topics brought up in the room of nearly 200 concerned and interested Tyrone residents, neighboring residents and local officials, was wind development not only in Tyrone and the 30th District, but in Pennsylvania in general.
Senator Eichelberger fielded questions from those in attendance addressing people’s concerns about wind energy development and the effects it has locally and around the state. The senator believes that the bottom line is that wind energy development is “mostly a feel good approach” to the energy problem.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to have almost no impact on energy generation,” said Eichelberger. “Between one and one and a half percent of the total energy generation in Pennsylvania if they build all the windmills they want to build is what the impact would be.”
The state government wants to build around 4,000 miles of windmills in Pennsylvania. Eichelberger said that the one and one and a half percent energy generation assumption is the state’s projected impact, which doesn’t mean that it would even be that high.
The senator said that there are many questions about the effects of having windmills anywhere close to people’s homes, and he feels that there is going to be government intervention either from local ordinances which is what’s being done now, or from state regulations, which is what is not being done presently in Pennsylvania.
“I think that the local governments lack the expertise to identify the correct issues, and they’re all different,” said Eichelberger. “There’s siting issues that are different in each particular place where they’re looking to site these windmills, so I think that it should be the state’s role to set forth some good regulations on the siting of windmills.”
He added, “It would be an aide to local municipalities.”
Senator Eichelberger continued by saying that the wind generation in Pennsylvania is just not as significant as it is in other parts of the country. He said that is part of the problem with the situation in Tyrone. People aren’t against the technology, but against whether or not wind development should be done here when it could be done in other places where the electricity generation is multiple times what it is in Pennsylvania.
“We’re shipping most of the generation out of state,” said Eichelberger. “We’re not getting any benefit here except for some monetary benefit, but if we drive down property values, if we lose people from the community, then the few thousand dollars they make will not be worth it.”
Eichelberger added that he and his colleagues in Harrisburg are looking at trying to come up with some kind of siting regulations for wind developers. He said that a lot of people think that local governments want to make these decisions with wind farms and that they want to customize it locally, but he thinks most of the local governments he’s talked to, not speaking for Tyrone, actually would welcome some kind of expertise coming from somewhere else.
“We’re looking at coming up with a statutory remedy or regulatory remedy that we’d work with DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) on, and see if we can do something statewide,” said Eichelberger. “Of course, the municipalities would have to agree with it.”
The senator also addressed the question of placing windmills on state public lands, and he thinks that will eventually happen. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is a strong supporter of wind development.
“The last I talked with the PA Game Commission, they have not permitted it (windmills) on game commission land, but DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) I think will end up probably putting them on DCNR land, although they haven’t yet,” stated Eichelberger.
Eichelberger added that there are a lot of issues with the wind turbine sites dealing with water run-off, noise, strobing and the effect on birds and wildlife that need to be addressed.
Representatives from the Pittsburgh based company PennFuture, who support wind energy development in Pennsylvania, were present at the town hall meeting last night, and the senator “resented” the fact that an out-of-town entity would come into Tyrone to try and influence its residents.
“There are many questions about the effects of having windmills anywhere close to people’s homes, and PennFuture is a group that has received money from Gamesa,” said Eichelberger.
“They’re (PennFuture) not from the area, they’re people from out of the area who are coming here to try and influence the people in Tyrone – and I don’t think that’s appropriate at all.”