Years of turmoil over a proposed wind farm that would have bordered the county has come to an end.
Spanish wind developer Gamesa announced in a two-paragraph statement from David Rosenberg, vice president of marketing communications, that the company will not be moving forward with development plans for the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm.
The project proposed the placement of 30 wind turbines of about 400 feet in height along the ridge of Shaffer Mountain; six in Ogle Township and 24 in Shade Township. The project bordered Bedford County, specifically Napier Township.
"Because of a combination of factors, including uncertainty surrounding federal policies, Gamesa has decided to halt development plans for its proposed Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm in Somerset County," Rosenberg stated in the release.
"Halting development of the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm will have no impact on Gamesa. This wind farm was not among the immediate portfolio of projects planned for development," Rosenberg continued. "Like others in the industry, Gamesa is concerned about the long-term effects of uncertainty surrounding federal policies, including the Production Tax Credit, as the U.S. market remains a priority. However, our company continues to seek new opportunities to use our U.S. facilities to serve other markets, including Canada, Central America and South America, where projects are pending."
While Rosenberg also said, "we appreciate the support we received from municipal leaders and landowners who agreed to host this clean energy project," the news was met with elation from numerous local residents.
Dozens of signs and billboards criticizing Gamesa Energy's selection of the forested ridge that is home to protected streams and bird species have dotted the landscape of the county since the project was proposed in 2006.
And with each public hearing, hundreds of people continued to turn out in June and August 2007 at Shade-Central City High School and August 2010 at Somerset High School. Comments of opposition outweighed support at each hearing.
A participant in the hearings and part-time resident of Schellsburg, Wayne C. Sierer said he's happy to see the proposed wind farm has been halted.
" It shouldn't have been sited there in the first place," he said. From a biological standpoint, Sierer said scrapping the project is "more than the right decision with the (endangered) Indiana bat and exceptional value streams."
" In fact, people need to realize what a poor source of energy industrial wind is," Sierer continued. "Industrial energy lives up to none of its claims - it doesn't save carbon dioxide and it doesn't provide reliable electricity.
" From an environmental standpoint, it's simply stupid to fragment state forest for such a poor source of energy," he said.
Kim Van Fleet said, "As an ornithologist and biologist, I am elated." She also echoed the opinion of Sierer that the wind farm "never should have been sited there."
According to Van Fleet, the siting of the industrial wind farm in an exceptional value environment would have done more long-term damage than good. " The long term you wouldn't see," she said. "It takes numerous years to measure.
" This is something that should not have occurred all along the Allegheny Front where forests have already been decimated," Van Fleet said. "This is a win for the residents who know the value of this property and a win for habitat and wildlife."
Gamesa's Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm would have caused a loss of 145 acres of forest habitat of the Allegheny Front. Four of the streams within the project area are designated high quality or exceptional value streams by the state, according to a review of Gamesa's application.
The total project area for the project's 400-foot turbines is 168 acres. It would require almost 13 miles of new roads and 3.2 miles of upgrades to existing roads.
The wind farm would connect to an existing 115-kilovolt electric transmission line owned by FirstEnergy of Central City. The project development would require 1.3 miles of new transmission corridor and retrofitting of 4.7 miles of an existing Somerset Rural Cooperative transmission line.
If built, the wind project would surround the Indiana bat maternity colony and would further distress a species already impacted by white nose syndrome, wind farm opponents said.
" First of all, I'm very pleased," Shaffer Mountain resident Karin Sedewar said. "And the reason being that a maternity colony of Indiana bats was found adjacent to and on the property which was going to be developed. It would have been a travesty to see the few remaining (Indiana bats) have their habitats taken away."
Sedewar, who was one of the landowners asked to participate in the project, said the state protected small-footed myotis was also found on the property of the proposed wind farm as well as the migration patterns of golden and bald eagles.
" This is such a diverse ecosystem," she said. " I believe the project was a test case because it had all the facets of being a diverse ecosystem and, had they gone through on Shaffer Mountain it would be a precedent on other development to get through and, I think, it would just open up the highway on turbines in eco- sensitive areas."
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) provided a biological opinion on the Shaffer Mountain proposal to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Sept. 27, 2011, stating that there was an Indiana bat maternity colony, a male bat community and a hibernaculum in the project area.
The biological opinion is part of the review process under the Clean Water Act and is required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make a decision on a permit for the project.
The " take" or bat deaths from the project would cause "an ongoing mortality of adult males and maternity colony members," the executive summary states but an "adaptive management plan" was suggested to reduce the mortality to a level where the colony and hibernating area could persist.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it wanted to revisit the biological opinion after a letter from the law firm of Washington, D. C.- based Meyer Glitzenstein and Crystal, representing the interests of a coalition of environmental and ecological groups. The letter pointed out "serious scientific and legal errors" in the September biological opinion.
Clint Riley, field office supervisor for the FWS, said, " Our understanding from Gamesa and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, at this stage they are not expecting us to provide a revised biological opinion."
Riley said if Gamesa is stopping the project, then "we will not have a project to issue a biological opinion on.
"We're still intending to get it issued," he said. "(Gamesa) hasn't formally told us they're halting the project. That is our informal understanding at the moment."
Riley said the revision has taken longer than anticipated. "We're hoping to incorporate new modeling to review impacts to the species," he said. "That has taken longer than usual."
A biological opinion is expected to be completed in about 4-5 months, Riley said, and the revision, "we hoped to be completed much more quickly than that and it hasn't."
Another vocal resident against the project, Jack Buchan, also had some strong words for Gamesa, referring to them as a "blood sucking parasite of the American taxpayer."
"They've hurt a lot of people," he said. "It has caused financial hardship for a lot of people up on Shaffer Mountain who could least afford financial hardship. And they fractured the community, causing hard feelings that will last generations just to harvest state and federal tax subsidies."
While Buchan said he is ecstatic that the wind farm has been halted, he said, "We've won for now, but the wind industry is like an insidious disease. It never goes away. It's always working in the shadows just waiting for the next moron career politician to write a check from the U.S. taxpayer account.
" Although we've won for now, this may not be over in the long run," he said. "But we have all the science on our side and we have all the infrastructure and we'll fight the next wind developer as well if another wind developer is so stupid as to try it."
Buchan said what has upset him the most is that Gamesa is "trying to take advantage of people that were helpless against them."
It's the second wind farm project in the Bedford County area to be nixed by developers in recent weeks. Iberdrola Renewables said last month they would not go ahead with the Dunning Mountain Wind Project which would have run along the ridgeline of Dunning and Evitts mountains overlooking Dutch Corner. The company had planned to install 24 400-foot-tall wind turbines for that project.