Alternative energy interest surged

Alternative energy interest surged

After a hearing lasting 15 months and involving dozens of witnesses, the fate of a proposed wind farm that a Vermont-based wind energy company wants to build in northern Lycoming County is in the hands of a county judge.

On Monday, Dec. 18, Judge Nancy Butts heard arguments from attorneys representing the company and the county Zoning Hearing Board, which denied the company’s special exception application to build the 35 electricity generating turbines along a ridge in Jackson and McIntyre townships.

The wind farm is proposed in an area zoned primarily for resource protection, which requires a special exception permit for certain types of development.

Also testifying during the hearing was Arthur Plaxton, a Liberty resident who opposes the wind farm, and Charles F. Greevy III, solicitor for the county Planning Commission.

According to the board’s written decision, the project was inconsistent with the county Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance and would have a negative impact on the environment, including wildlife, public water supplies and fisheries, and the quality of life of nearby communities.

In its appeal, the wind energy company argued that the board’s assertion that board committed legal errors and based its decision on findings supported by little or no evidence.

The board’s assertion that the project would adversely impact wildlife was not based on substantial evidence, and was overwhelmingly contradicted by expert testimony, the appeal said.

The appeal also said that the project’s threat to public water supplies and fisheries was ”speculative” and ”not supported by any evidence whatsoever.”

During the hearing, Zoning Hearing Board solicitor Karl Baldys countered that the massive scope of the project placed it at odds with the zoning ordinance that allows minimal development in a resource protection zone.

Plaxton said that while some of those who testified against the project did not have degrees and were not technically experts, the fact that they had lived in the region their entire lives made their testimony every bit as authoritative.

Plaxton called the proposed project ”a massive intrusion” on local residents.

It is not known when Butts will make her decision.

While the wind farm issue dominated local news, a spike in the price of gasoline, caused by the destruction by Hurricane Katrina of oil drilling and refining operations in the Gulf of Mexico, put other energy issues to the forefront in 2006.

While the federal government had no comprehensive alternative energy policy, Pennsylvania, through Gov. Ed Rendell’s ”25 X 25” plan, which calls for achieving 25 percent dependence on alternative fuels by 2025, has become a leader in energy independence.

In August, Rendell announced that the state’s first ethanol production facility will be constructed in Clearfield County.

According to a state Department of Environmental Protection press release, the plant will produce 108 million gallons of denatured, fuel-grade ethanol per year. It will be one of the largest ethanol plants east of the Mississippi River and among the 10 largest such plants in the nation, the release said.

The state presented more than $17 million to BioEnergy International LLC for the $250 million project.

The company will build and operate the facility, while Lukoil Americas will serve as the exclusive distributor of the product.

In Danville, soybean processing and commodity trading company Boyd Station buys soybeans produced in the region and crushes them for raw oil used in the biodiesel market.

Company owner Bryan Cotner said the biodiesel market will increase the demand for soybeans grown in the region and help farmers get a better price for their products.

Boyd Station supplies about half of the raw soy oil used by the state’s first biodiesel producer, Keystone BioFuels of Shiremanstown, Cumberland County. The company began operation in March and produces about 3,000 gallons of biodiesel a day.

According to the company Web site, a planned expansion could increase the company’s production to 5 million to 7 million gallons of biodiesel per year.

A press release from White Deer-based Biodiesel of Pennsylvania Inc. reported that the company has begun operations and plans to begin selling the biodiesel fuel in early 2007.

In Lycoming County, the prospect of profiting from possible natural gas reserves piqued the interest of a large number of rural landowners.

That was apparent in the number of people who attended a series of workshops, sponsored by the Penn State Cooperative Extension on natural gas well leasing.

More than 150 attended the initial workshop in Trout Run, and dozens of others attended a workshop in Jersey Shore in which an attorney discussed the legal nuances of leasing land to a gas company for exploration.

According to Thomas Murphy, an educator with the Lycoming County cooperative extension, as recently as last January, a single gas exploration company had leased 93,000 acres in the northern portion of the county.

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