WINDBER – Two weeks ago, debate over wind farm regulations in Ogle Township prompted supervisors to end a meeting after approximately four minutes.
Monday night, it looked like the same back and forth might approach four hours.
Township supervisors listened to a standing-room-only crowd of at least 50 local residents, many of them Ogle Township property owners, urge them to increase setbacks against energy-generating windmills to protect their rural setting, property values and “peace and quiet.
But as of 10 p.m., no action was taken and the meeting had not adjourned.
That came after officials with Illinois-based Invenergy outlined their company’s recent work and told residents they were in the earliest phases of information-gathering to see if a wind farm might be feasible.
Dozens of residents stood up against the idea.
“Everybody loves living here on the mountain and being here. I hope we can ... keep it that way. And not sell out our community,” resident Bill Tantorno said.
“Represent us,” fellow township resident John Mellott added after one meeting attendee noted that 10 percent of Ogle Township’s population showed up to push for stricter setbacks.
The township requires windmills to be set back approximately 300 feet from the nearest property line and 500 feet from the nearest structure – a law that Solicitor John Gibson said will hold up in court.
But landowners like Joseph Cominsky pushed for 2,500-foot setbacks from structures, and he offered to donate $500 toward the legal costs of modifying the law when supervisors suggested it “could cost thousands of dollars” to change the law.
Board members declined the offer and said they had to weigh both sides of the argument, with Chairman Harvey Weyandt noting that increased setback requirements could unfairly restrict smaller landowners ability to place windmills on their land if they want to.
One after another, residents told the board that shouldn’t matter.
They also fired a list of questions at Invenergy officials, with some residents worried about wildlife, others property values and many saying they worried the project was already a “done deal.”
Michael Kaplan, Invenergy’s vice president, said that’s not the case.
He told residents that the company is still in the earliest phases of exploring the idea of a Shaffer Mountain wind farm, noting that it could be a year or more until they have the data to see if the project is worth exploring, let alone construction-ready.
He cited national reports he maintained show that property values aren’t impacted by wind farms – a fact several residents disputed.
Kaplan tried to ease environmental concerns, saying the company develops its wind farms while relying on groups like the Pennsylvania Game Commission for guidance, and he said Invenergy has been nationally recognized for its work
Several Ogle Township residents told the group to give up now, saying the idea doesn’t have community support.
Kaplan said there are property owners who’ve expressed otherwise and suggested they are in early discussions with ones who could one day host turbines, if wind speeds support a project.
He estimated Invenergy would need at least 12 property owners to sign leases for a project to succeed.
But at this point, they aren’t proposing a single windmill, he said.
Weyandt said he wanted to see more evidence – not just baseless claims and concerns – that it was worth readjusting their current law.
He and Gibson suggested they were willing to listen.
Gibson urged the board to be cautious, saying a wind ordinance has been tied up in court in Fayette County for years by a wind power project’s developers.