Groundbreaking for wind turbines nears
While members of the Potter County Planning Commission (PCPC) have a few concerns about the wind energy project slated for Ulysses Township, they could do little more than express their views at this month’s meeting.
AES Corporation, an international energy giant, plans to erect 55 wind turbines in the Fox Hill area, with construction beginning in late spring or early summer, according to project manager Shawn Briggs.
Final approval of the project rests with the newly formed Ulysses Township Planning Commission, with the township’s regulations superseding the county’s. PCPC has the right to review and comment on the plans prior to final action by the township.
Planning Director Charlotte Dietrich reported that AES appears to be in compliance with regulations, but drew members’ attention to issues including decommissioning requirements and the potential for shadow flicker as a result of one turbine. She also suggested that the township’s engineer review storm water management plans.
Dietrich noted that AES has requested a waiver of setbacks for one turbine. While the township’s ordinance calls for a setback of 1.2 times the turbine height from the road centerline (443’ or 532’, depending on the turbine size), Dietrich said it appears that a turbine located off Tom May Road will have a setback of only around 100 feet.
AES maintains that the road is lightly used and the company has no other option. Dietrich raised safety concerns in view of the possibility of future development. PCPC Chair Wanda Shirk, who also chairs the township’s planning commission, pointed out that the township has already granted the waiver. Dietrich said she would like to see a deed restriction stating that no further development can occur on the road.
Some members expressed concerns over shadow flicker which is expected to occur from a turbine located on the property of Ulysses Township Supervisor and farmer Jim Hoopes. It would be located near the home of Herb Miller, one of the most outspoken opponents of the wind energy project.
Dietrich noted that shadow flicker may occur for short periods of time during early morning and late evening, for a few months of the year. The Ulysses ordinance states that a facility owner must make reasonable efforts to minimize shadow flicker, but does not provide a threshold.
“Currently there are no standards in the U.S. or Pennsylvania relating to shadow flicker, but 25 hours per year has typically been applied,” Deitrich said, adding that three properties will potentially receive shadow flicker more than 25 hours per year.
Two have trees that will aid in managing it; AES says it will plant trees to reduce the shadow flicker on the Miller home. The property is expected to be affected for about one hour per day for one month out of the year.
Briggs noted that the company is willing to work with the Millers on the planting, but discussions to date “have not been amicable.”
Dietrich said that although AES is in compliance, “I find it very troubling that they placed a turbine directly in front of Herb Miller’s home.” She noted that although there is no documented evidence that shadow flicker poses a health hazard, “it can be very bothersome.”
“I think more consideration should have taken place. I think that either the turbine should be eliminated from the project, or some sort of compromise should occur,” the director said.
PCPC member Curt Weinhold suggested that AES be approached about moving the location, while member Phil Hershey asked if AES could eliminate the turbine or purchase the Miller property.
Briggs responded that the company does not customarily purchase residential property.
“It’s difficult to justify eliminating a turbine when we’re in compliance with all the requirements,” Briggs said. He noted that setback requirements preclude the company from erecting the turbine in another location.
The township and AES are negotiating a host agreement which will determine the amount of revenue the township receives. Shirk said it appears that the total tax revenue from AES may amount to $160,000 per year; currently the township generates $120,000 annually, so the wind project could potentially eliminate township real estate taxes, although residents would still be subject to county and school taxes.