Wind Farm Concerns Outweigh Weather in Noxen
By Rick Hiduk
BP Wind Energy found a receptive crowd at an open house held at the Noxen Community Center on Oct. 29, despite a freak mid-autumn snowstorm blanketing the landscape outside. Residents from four Wyoming County townships came to listen and learn, as an almost equal number of BP representatives explained their reasons for wanting to construct the 9,000-acre Mehoopany Wind Farm and how the installation of 90 massive wind turbines will impact the neighboring communities.
“I’m all for it,” said Richard Price of Monroe Township. “This area has been depressed for too many years, and this is going to be a big boon to a lot of people.”
“I wish that it wasn’t in my backyard,” countered Tom Field of Noxen Township. “I’m concerned about flooding.”
Erosion and flooding were perhaps the most common concerns voiced during the afternoon event, which wasn’t surprising, considering the devastating flooding experienced by residents of Mehoopany, Noxen, and Forkston in August and September. Many BP representatives were already in the region when Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee left their mark on the area and maintain that their company shares their concerns and will work with each municipality to minimalize the impact that initially cutting large swaths of thick forest for the transportation of equipment and parts to turbine sites could cause.
Some municipal authorities are already looking at wind power as a windfall, including Forkston Township supervisors Frank Miner and George Kraus. According to projections posted three years ago when BP first began courting the municipalities, each “host township” will receive $50,000 within 30 days of the beginning of construction, $26,000 per year from Mehoopany Wind Energy (MWE) LLC of Delaware, and property taxes that would be assessed on any other landowner.
“This is the shot in the arm our township needs,” said Miner, who expects 30 towers to rise in the Forkston area alone. “We have a bare-bones budget, and this will allow us to upgrade some equipment.”
Kraus acknowledged the concerns of fellow residents about potential soil erosion but, after attending multiple meetings with BP and MWE officials, he stated, “We don’t see any problem.” Besides, he added, harnessing the wind for energy is a cleaner process than natural gas production, “and we need to create all of the clean energy that we can.”
Calvin Otten lives in Forkston Township on a piece of land that has been in his family for more than 75 years, and he currently enjoys an unobstructed view of what is known as Windy Valley. “My concerns deal with the aesthetics of it,” he stated in reference to the number of wind turbines, each with two 130-foot blades, that will dot the landscape. Otten insists that he is not against wind energy production and, in fact, looked into the viability of it in the early 1980s before deciding that erecting solar panels would be more cost effective for him because, as an individual landowner, the liability insurance was not as high. He takes photos of the valley on a regular basis, however, because “It’s changing so rapidly.”
Some other residents worry about the increase in traffic but admit that they have already had to get used to gas industry-related vehicles using the same roads and bridges that BP will utilize during the construction phase of the MWE sites.
“Our roads are already a nightmare,” said Price. “There’s nothing you can do about it. That’s progress.”
Sandy Lee, who recently returned to the Noxen area from Detroit, laments that the once quiet village that she used to visit to stay with her grandmother is now filled with continuous traffic. She was at the open house to learn more about wind power itself and admitted, “There’s good and bad with everything.” Lee was particularly concerned about the recent purchase of a nearby bed and breakfast by BP. She wondered if it would be torn down or used as MWE headquarters.
BP Wind Energy director of government and public affairs Amanda Abbott related that the property had been purchased primarily to construct a road that would allow an adequate turning radius for the giant parts that will begin arriving next year. The company has no plans to demolish the structures on the property, she related, nor are there any plans for the buildings after the work is done.
Lee expressed relief that the bed and breakfast would not soon fall under the wrecking ball. Other residents also expressed a general satisfaction that there were more potential benefits than disadvantages from having a wind farm as a neighbor.
“I think that they covered everything that I wanted to know about it,” Barb Field of Noxen said of the event. “It will be kind of cool to watch.”
Upon completion MWE will channel the harnessed energy through a 115K volt transmission line to a substation near Procter & Gamble in Mehoopany Township. P&G itself will use a substantial portion of the electricity generated, dramatically decreasing its independence on a national grid powered by coal burning and nuclear power, both of which have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.
More details about the project can be found online at www.bp.com, using keywords “Mehoopany” and “Wind Farm.”