Opponents say windmill ice a danger

BEAR CREEK TWP. – Hiking trails around Crystal Lake could be ideal for snowmobiling and cross country skiing now that Luzerne County owns the property, purchased with public money for the purpose of preservation and recreation.

Such activities already happen there, and an existing snowmobile trail on state gamelands leads to the area, said Dr. Henry Smith, who frequents the spot.

Smith and others who oppose a wind park proposed for the site question whether outdoor activities would be dangerous, or banned outright, whenever ice builds up on the blades of the windmills and is flung to the ground.

Smith uses formulas based on turbine blade diameter and windmill height to calculate so-called "ice throw." He said his conservative estimate indicates hundreds of pounds of ice could land within 800 feet of each turbine.

Smith rules out studies that indicate the windmills could throw ice as far as 2,800 feet because wind resistance that slows turbine blades is not factored in.

Still, people can be found on trails within 800 feet of where the windmills might stand, he said.

"There's a significant amount of area currently being recreated on that's within the range of the turbines, given the industry's own equation," Smith said.

Township resident William D. Haas has also expressed concerns about ice throw and other aspects of the project in a letter to township officials.

Township zoning officials are deciding whether to allow Energy Unlimited, operators of the wind park, to place nine more windmills on the county-owned land in addition to 25 already approved for the parcel.

Commissioners bought the land from Theta Corp. in 2003 using several million dollars of county bond money and state money. The county and state promised in press releases that the land would be preserved and used for recreation.

However, Energy Unlimited had already purchased the wind rights from Theta so it could locate a wind farm there to generate electricity.

Energy Unlimited spokesman John Connolly on Wednesday said he knew nothing about government promises that the land would be used for recreation, and he questioned the need for additional recreation when there's already 49,000 acres of state game land in the county.

Nevertheless, he said he does not believe it would be a problem for people to engage in outdoor activities near the windmills, and believes Smith is "trying to instill fear in everybody."

"The ice is not an issue. First of all, there's never been a recorded case of anyone being hit by ice from a wind turbine. Period," Connolly said.

Connolly said the fiberglass turbine blades stop spinning when ice builds up because they get too heavy for the wind to move them.

"It's not like it's an uncontrollable thing spinning and throwing ice here or there. It stays stopped until it warms up," Connolly said.

The ice eventually melts off.

"There might be a bit of throw when the blades first start moving again, but we could clear the area," Connolly said.

Eric Blank, development vice president for the company that developed and partly owns another wind farm on privately owned land in Bear Creek Township, said ice builds up and gets thrown off blades, and the industry typically deals with it by building them away from homes and other buildings and prohibiting anyone but qualified personnel from working around them during ice events.

His company, Wayne-based Community Energy Inc., made sure the turbines on Bald Mountain, also in the township, were at least 2,000 feet from homes.

Studies generally show that people are more likely to get hit by lightning than ice from a windmill if they're more than 500 feet away from a tower base, he said. However, Blank was quick to note that such studies are based on projects on private land with restricted access, not publicly owned areas with trails.

Ice typically builds up in extreme cold. He banks on five to 10 days a year of windmill icing at the Bald Mountain site.

Community Energy President Brent Alderfer said he thinks the word "throw" is misleading because the turbines don't have motors like fans or automobiles.

"They move with the wind like a tree. You might have ice blow, but not throw. Does ice fall off? Yes. But I think the word throw is a misnomer."
Smith said falling ice is still a concern.

"You have a big, wide swath that's at risk for ice droppings alone. That region is an ice-prone area," Smith said.


DEC 8 2005
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