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A roadmap for wind farm opposition

North country communities opposed to commercial wind development have evidence their voices matter. Time to raise them.

Wind turbines

Wind turbines Photo Credit: Bloomberg / Timothy Fadek

Without a lot of fanfare, the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment approved, with conditions, the Cassadaga Wind LLC project, making it the first project approved under the state’s new Article 10 rules.

Wind turbines will be located in “the towns of Cherry Creek, Charlotte, and Arkwright. Turbine heights would be limited to 500 feet in ’tip”’ height, measured in a straight line from the base of the turbine tower through the hub to the blade tip,” the ruling states.

This project is notable for having, as have wind facilities in Lewis County, strong community support. That separates it from many projects contemplated in Northern New York.

But there are notable similarities: the project is only scant miles from the eastern shore of Lake Erie, and it is in an area where waterfront properties abound.

It’s hard to say why the local community was largely supportive of the project, outside of seeing the project as a cash cow for local municipalities. The motivation is really unimportant here - what is important here is that the siting board established criteria that can give a road map to communities that do not want wind towers sprouting up in their area.

Yates Supervisor Dennis Englert, in the Lockport Union Sun, reported “Siting Board Chairman John B. Rhodes stated, ’I find it noteworthy and positive that the project is consistent with all local laws and ordinances.’ The chairman also stated that efforts to increase renewable energy in New York state must ’protect and accommodate the concerns of local communities.’”

Mr. Englert was recently elected supervisor by opponents to the proposed Lighthouse Wind project. He has visited the north country, and has worked with Clayton Supervisor David Storandt on wind issues.

Mr. Rhodes’s words answer important questions about how the siting board process is going to work. In fact, it could be inferred that his statements were direct, and pointed squarely at the wind industry.

Various voices from big wind have urged the PSC to not weigh such things as restrictive zoning ordinances and strong community opposition, favoring instead the state’s energy policy over local concerns. With his statement, Mr. Rhodes has put the industry on notice that local opposition, especially in the form of local government, will be a major concern of his board.

So the permitting of the Cassadaga project offers a roadmap, of sorts, for north country communities that oppose wind development. It suggests a multi-faceted strategy:

  • Develop cogent, defensible zoning ordinances or zoning amendments that effectively ban such projects. It would be sensible, for example, in a town where the tallest structure is a 175-foot communications tower, to ban structures of excessive height. Cassadaga got a 500-foot, ground-to-blade tip restriction, which puts it in the realm of Maple Ridge in Lewis County. Setting a height limit of half of that or less would simply eliminate the economic return, when you consider most new tower heights are near 600 feet and blade lengths are nearly a third of that.
  • Elect town officials who reflect the majority position on the acceptability of wind projects. Cape Vincent did this, Clayton did this, Hammond did this. All have effectively countered developers’ plans to date. Clayton, for example, will have an effective zoning ordinance dealing with wind proposals; the Horse Creek project appears dormant, and probably on the way out because it will not be able to meet the federal government time line for eligibility for the production tax credit. Loss of the federal subsidy, loss of the county payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement and real uncertainty about whether the siting board will approve the project could stick a stake in the heart of Horse Creek Wind.
  • Emphasize real environmental risk. The administrative law judge took note of the absence of environmental concerns as one of the reasons Cassadaga was approved. The level of environmental concern raised by former Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist Clifford P. Schneider over the Galloo Island wind project is almost certain to be seriously weighed by the siting board. With the increasing evidence of the level of bird mortality - especially raptors and endangered bat species - raising concern in major flyways such as the Thousand Islands is different than raising concerns where there are few endangered bird species at play.
  • Be vocal. It is clear that the level of opposition to a project is being considered. If a community like Clayton and its surrounding towns provide 175 to 200 letters in opposition, versus 25 or so in favor, the siting board has evidence of community sentiment.
  • The Cassadaga approval lights the path. Now north country communities opposed to commercial wind development have evidence their voices matter. Time to raise them.

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