Modern windmills are large structures that can dominate a landscape.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures
There’s no missing them.
Modern windmills are tall. Most stand close to 380 feet, according to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority. That’s comparable to a 32-story building.
Their supporters believe their benefits match their height. The Pennsylvania Wind Working Group says they create jobs, offer low cost energy and lessen pollution.
And they’re plentiful in certain parts of the state, too. There were 25 wind farms in Pennsylvania in 2017, according to a St. Francis University analysis. The Laurel Highlands has the most, with the Pocono Region ranking second.
But one place you won’t find them is on state game lands. And the Pennsylvania Game Commission wants to keep it that way.
When commissioners meet in Harrisburg on Jan. 28-30, one thing up for a vote will be adoption of a policy banning construction of windmills on game lands.
Starting around 2005 or 2006, there was a big push across Pennsylvania to develop “alternative energy” sources, said Pete Sussenbach, chief of the commission’s bureau of wildlife habitat management. Windmills were a big part of that.
Nineteen times, windmill farms operators sought permission to build on game lands. Nineteen times the commisison turned them away.
So, rather than “dangling a carrot out there,” as if to tell wind developers that “if you keep jumping higher and going a little further, eventually your attempt is going to be successful,” the commission is expected to adopt a policy making its position clear.
Habitat and wildlife are the reasons.
Wind farms aren’t friendly to either, at least from the commission’s perspective, Sussenbach said.
The most recent request for a windmill farm on game lands involved state game land 300, a 5,620-acre parcel in Lackawanna and Wayne counties. It, like all others, would have been several acres in size, Sussenbach said.
“And generally some of the sites they’re looking at are some of our higher quality, rarest types and most unique habitats we have on state game lands,” Sussenbach said.
Others are places undergoing active management, too. Crews burnt portions of game lands 300 to create wildlife habitat, for example, Sussenbach said. Plans are to burn it again, too.
It’s already home to a significant population of snowshoe hares and rare warblers.
Charlie Fox of Bradford County added that windmills take ground out of circulation for hunting. Their owners like to keep people away.
“They’re very protective of the site where it’s at. So you’re not going to get in there and wander around. You’re taking that out of hunting,” Fox said.
Windmills involve “lifetimes of impact,” too, Sussenbach said.
“These require that every-day level of activity, which would certainly make that land non-huntable,” Sussenbach said. “Or not at the quality it is now.”
“Yeah, that’s not something we’re really interested in,” said board president Brian Hoover of Chester County.