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Q&A with Gamesa Project Developer Josh Framel on the proposed Ice Mountain wind farm project

Gamesa Energy USA Project Developer Josh Framel grew up in Olympia, Washington and graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s of science degree in math and computer science from the University of Washington in Seattle.
After college, Framel moved to Austin, Texas, where he was employed as a project developer for Cielo Wind Power, a Texas wind power development company. He also served as assistant construction manager for seven months during construction of the Caprock Wind Ranch in San Jon, New Mexico.
In 2005, Framel moved to Philadelphia when he was hired by his current employer, Gamesa.
Framel is the project developer for Gamesa’s proposed Sandy Ridge Wind Farm, which Tyrone Borough Council currently is reviewing a lease proposal with Gamesa for its portion of the wind farm. The proposal would place 10 to 15 wind turbines on the borough’s watershed property atop Ice Mountain, and the entire wind farm is projected to produce 50-megawatts of renewable energy. That would place enough clean electricity into the grid to power as many as 15,000 homes.
Presently, the lease would pay the greater of $7,000 per year over the next 30 years for each wind turbine on borough property, or a percentage of the gross annual revenue from the sale of electricity. That percentage would start at 3.5 percent, then increase to 4 percent after 10 years, and ultimately reach 4.5 percent after 20 years.
Depending on the number of wind turbines, the guaranteed minimum payment to the borough would be between $70,000 and $105,000 annually, though the royalty payment is expected to be even higher. It is possible the borough could earn as much as $150,000 per year. Over the life of the project, the borough could receive between $3 and $5 million total.
Framel sat down with The Daily Herald to discuss the economic and environmental benefits of Tyrone’s proposed Ice Mountain site within the Sandy Ridge Wind Farm.
The Daily Herald: The money side of the proposed lease agreement would be appealing to any small town. What kind of impact on Tyrone’s economy would this wind farm project have?
Framel: If someone offered you a 4.6 percent annual raise, would you take it or turn it down? A $150,000 per year payment would be 4.6 percent of the borough’s current $3.2 million general fund budget. To put it another way, council members would have to increase the borough tax rate by 9.4 mills to generate $150,000 in a single year. The minimum $3 million total payment that Tyrone could earn over the 30 years is equal to a free year of operations for the borough.
The Daily Herald: What do those figures mean to the Tyrone community?
Framel: What this means for your community is that even with a slowing economy, Tyrone Borough and its residents have the opportunity to bring in between $3 million and $5 million in new revenue over the life of the project – all at no expense to taxpayers.
The Daily Herald: Gamesa states the economic benefits of wind farms are indisputable. What have other communities done with the monies generated from a wind farm?
Framel: Other communities have used revenue from wind farm leases to reduce taxes, pave roads, or benefit the local water authority. Local businesses also benefit from the influx of construction workers, and several full-time permanent jobs are created for operation and maintenance of the project.
The Daily Herald: On April 22, registered borough voters have the option to take an informal, non-binding, yes or no survey after voting in the primary to voice his or her opinion on the proposed wind farm. The survey is designed to provide borough council more information to assist in their decision. What do you think about the survey?
Framel: We don’t exactly know how the survey process will work, but it’s another chance for borough residents to have a say if they’re a registered voter. It is our understanding the council might not approve the final process until the night before the election. The borough’s attempt at an informal referendum is an entirely new realm, and it does raise concerns. The survey isn’t part of the formal election process, and by law the questionnaire stations must be a distance away from actual voting machines.
The Daily Herald: You mentioned you had concerns about the survey. What are some of your concerns?
Framel: There are no sanctioned officials to oversee the process or guard against electioneering at the polling place, as there are in regular elections, and there’s nowhere for opponents or supporters of the proposed wind farm to turn if either suspects irregularities in voting. The outcome isn’t binding, which might be good, since initial reports indicated opponents would help tally the votes. I understand details are still being worked out regarding that.
The Daily Herald: There may be some issues that need to be resolved with the survey on April 22, but don’t you think it’s important that the residents in the borough should have a say in the wind farm project?
Framel: Gamesa always has and always will value the input of residents, and the company’s discussions about the proposed Sandy Ridge Wind Farm have been open and public from the beginning – in town hall meetings and open houses, and in presentations before residents, borough council officials, township supervisors, and planning commission members. The informal referendum just raises a lot of questions.
The Daily Herald: Many people are concerned over the environmental effects a wind farm will have on Ice Mountain, such as siting issues that will negatively impact wildlife and the water. Does Gamesa share those same sentiments? If so, how does Gamesa address that?
Framel: Gamesa does share those concerns, which is why we work closely with state and local agencies to ensure that any impact will be minimal. The environmental benefits of wind are indisputable. There’s no mining, no fuel drilling, no radioactive or hazardous wastes, no need for water for steam or cooling, and no harmful air emissions. Wind farms leave no lasting legacy – siting decisions are based on sound science and controlled by rigorous environmental standards.
The Daily Herald: So, Gamesa feels the company is protecting the environment when a wind farm is constructed?
Framel: Absolutely. Gamesa understands the effects of development and takes care to work in the most environmentally sound, ecologically sustainable manner. We take exceptional measures to study the natural habitat of the area, and, local, state and federal agencies are involved in every facet of development to ensure that wind farms today can be sited properly and developed responsibly.
The Daily Herald: What kind of impact has Gamesa wind power development had in Pennsylvania?
Framel: In just a few short years, Gamesa has invested $175 million in the commonwealth, creating nearly 1,300 jobs statewide, including more than 350 in this region. Gamesa is the perfect example of how environmental protection can fuel economic growth. At a time when most of the country is watching jobs vanish overseas, Pennsylvania is luring overseas jobs here.
The Daily Herald: Obviously, this is an important decision for borough council and the residents of Tyrone. From Gamesa’s standpoint, what would you say to the residents of Tyrone before taking the wind farm survey April 22?
Framel: Like you said, this is an important decision – for our environment, for the economy, and for your community. You have the chance to help create a stronger economy, a safer world, and a cleaner environment by making energy less polluting. And in the process, you can make sure Tyrone Borough benefits.