article & photo by Anthony Spaulding
The winds of change are blowing energy alternatives into central Pennsylvania and stirring up debate along the way.
Central Pennsylvania, with its many blustery ridgetops, is seen as a prime location for wind farms by wind turbine companies and local environmentalists concerned about climate change. But others in the environmental community argue that wind farms would harm forests and wildlife, and local planners worry about sound pollution and blighted landscapes.
Gamesa Energy USA, one of the largest wind turbine companies in the world, is planning to build 25 wind turbines on Ice Mountain, which straddles the border between Blair and Centre counties. The proposed Sandy Ridge Wind Farm would consist of 10 to 15 wind turbines on the part of the mountain owned by Tyrone Borough and 10 turbines on Taylor Township land, according to Gamesa project manager Josh Framel.
Framel said Gamesa has plans for wind farms in other areas of central Pennsylvania, but he didn’t elaborate.
Tyrone Borough Council is considering a 30-year lease of its Ice Mountain land to Gamesa for the wind farm, according to Tyrone Mayor James Kilmartin. The council will not make a decision on the proposal until May, when it will have reviewed the results of an informal poll of voters’ views on the wind farm to be conducted during the April 22 primary, Kilmartin said.
"Time is on our side," he said. "We don't have to rush into a decision."
Ridgetops are the most effective locations for wind farms in central Pennsylvania because they have the strongest winds, according to Juniata Valley Audubon Society President Stan Kotala. The problem, he said, is that the ridgetops are home to unbroken forests and wildlife.
"Some of these areas are important bird and mammal areas," Kotala said. "The ridgetops are the last forest habitat in central Pennsylvania."
Kilmartin said the wind farms would also damage the aesthetics of the region.
"The ridgetops are a drawing point for central Pennsylvania," he said. "A 400-foot apparatus would interfere with that."
A group called "Save Ice Mountain" held a public forum on the proposed wind farm in Tyrone in late Marc