The city of Bethlehem is preparing to enter into an agreement that could lead to the development of a wind energy power plant at its Penn Forest Dam watershed in Carbon County.
As currently conceived, the facility would consist of about 27 100-meter tall windmills constructed along a ridge line in Penn Forest Township and generate about 43 megawatts, enough electricity for about 16,000 homes.
City Council got its first look at the plan on Monday night in a joint meeting of the Finance and Public Works committees. Both committees unanimously approved a letter of intent to continue negotiating with a wind energy partnership that is proposing to develop the facility.
The project will probably take at least three years to finish, according to members of the partnership, which calls itself Call Mountain Wind, a team that includes Citizens Energy Corp., the non-profit corporation founded by Joseph P. Kennedy II to provide low-cost heating oil to low-income families.
Citizens and Delsea Energy, a New Jersey-based renewable energy company, are the primary financial partners in the development.
The team first must analyze the wind at the site to determine that its strength and consistency will be sufficient to generate enough energy to justify the investment. Among the other things that must be secured are land development permits from the township, environmental approvals from the state and a long-term agreement to sell the power generated.
Among the more interesting parts of the approval process will be the Federal Aviation Administration, which will look at how mountaintop wind towers might impact takeoff and landing patterns at regional airports.
And while the FAA itself is an easy regulator to deal with, that application is also reviewed by the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security, said Robert W. Sherwin, a wind power engineer from Vermont who has 40 years of experience.
“We’ve had proposals denied for no reason, simply because Homeland Security says no,” Sherwin said.
The most important part of the process will be an extensive wind study that could take up to two years to complete, Sherwin said. That much data is needed to show lenders that the project can generate enough energy to repay loans needed to buy the expensive wind-power turbines that generate power.
If the project is completed, the city would stand to gain no less than $400,000 a year in new revenue generated by a land lease, the tentative terms of which were discussed during Monday’s meeting. The city would be paid $10,000 per megawatt nameplate capacity of the facility in the first year of operation. Thereafter, the city’s fee would increase by 2 percent a year for the life of the power plant.
The project has been under review by the Bethlehem Authority for about two years. Authority board members and Executive Director Steven Repasch gave the project an enthusiastic endorsement during the meeting.
Board Chairman John Tallarico told council members that the project is environmentally sound and would have no impact on the area’s surface or groundwater, which ultimately could have an impact on the city’s largest reservoir. Part of what the board liked about the Call Mountain partnership was its conservative approach to dealing with environmental resources.
One member of the Call Mountain team is Bradley M. Campbell, an attorney and former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Mid-Atlantic regional director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s so exciting, I’m really beside myself,” said City Councilwoman Karen Dolan, who has helped spearhead regional environmental education efforts through the Illick’s Mill Partnership. “I think this is a really well-considered idea.”