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Atlantic Wind files new application for turbines in Penn Forest

Atlantic Wind filed a new application this week to construct 28 wind turbines on land belonging to the Bethlehem Water Authority in Penn Forest Township. This new application is separate from the one currently before the township for 37 wind turbines.

In her letter to the township’s zoning board, Atlantic Wind’s attorney Debra Shulski points out that the new proposal and plan is different from the one which was submitted in April 2016.

According to Shulski, the new application:

• Reduces the number of proposed wind turbines.

• Reduces project footprint.

• Reduces the length of access roads and disturbance area.

• Removes the operation and safety building.

• The location of the northernmost turbines have changed and moved further away from residences (the closest turbine is over a mile away from any home in Towamensing Trails and Hickory Run Estates neighborhood and over 2,100 feet from any home in Beltzville Lake Estates.

• Reduces the number of properties adjacent to the subject property.

Atlantic Wind is not withdrawing the first proposal.

“As our initial proposal for a Penn Forest wind farm proceeds through litigation, this separate proposal represents an effort to address concerns we’ve heard while still bringing forward a clean energy proposal that can deliver substantial economic opportunities for the area,” Craig Poff, director of business development for Avangrid Renewables, Atlantic Wind’s parent company.

Atlantic Wind says it has taken community concerns into consideration when making its decision to submit the new plan.

“We are continually listening to community concerns and remain focused on our efforts to deliver a clean energy and economic development opportunity to the region,” Poff said.

“We’re constantly evaluating ways to make every wind farm have as small a footprint as possible, and as a result, we submitted an application for a Penn Forest wind farm that takes advantage of newer turbine technology to shrink the number of turbines.”

The biggest difference from the original application to the new application is that the northernmost string of turbines has been eliminated.

Poff says with this change, the closest turbine would now be more than a mile from the nearest home in the north side of the project.

The executive director of the Bethlehem Water Authority is pleased with the new proposal as well.

“Both of these proposals make for a worthwhile project,” Steven Repasch said. “The change is for the better with a reduced overall footprint and it extends the distance to the nearest private property. It is still a good project, made better with these changes.”

A new application means a new round of hearings before the zoning hearing board.

During the previous round of hearings, Atlantic Wind refused to attend the last two hearings due to its attorneys’ and employees’ concerns with safety. Atlantic Wind had filed a suit requesting that the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas appoint an independent hearing officer to replace the hearing board and that the hearings be moved a safer setting.

Carbon County Judge Steven R. Serfass denied Atlantic Wind’s request. Atlantic Wind has appealed this holding to the Commonwealth Court. It is scheduled for oral argument during the April session in Harrisburg.

After Serfass’ ruling, the zoning hearing board was to set a schedule for the remaining hearings. The hearing board missed the 45-day time period set by the Municipal Planning Code, after which the original application was deemed approved.

The deemed approval is currently being appealed by Christopher Mangold and Philip Malitsch, objectors to the permit application.

Atlantic Wind has also filed a request to be permitted to enter additional testimony on the record before the hearing board on the first application. That matter is also before Judge Serfass.

In the letter that accompanied the application, Shulski is once again requesting that the township appoint an independent attorney to act as hearing officer. Shulski cited the “significant time commitment from the zoning hearing board members who are volunteers,” as her reasoning for the request.

Additionally, Shulski’s letter indicates that Atlantic Wind is still concerned with safety at future hearings and is requesting that future hearings be held at the township building and that police be present at all hearings.

Shulski suggests that “if the zoning hearing board would like to televise the hearings for the benefit of the public, the applicant agrees to share the costs.”

“We are also happy to entertain whatever other suggestions you may have with respect to an appropriate venue to ensure safe, secure and orderly proceedings,” she concluded.

The Penn Forest zoning board has yet to convene to discuss the new application and set a schedule for hearings. The board holds its regular public meetings at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month.