Abstract: Governor Andrew Cuomo, who supports an energy quota forcing New York to buy half of its energy from qualifying renewables by 2030, does not see the problems that would be caused by coating Upstate, Central and Western New York with sprawling, low-output, intrusive, bird-unfriendly wind turbines. All would be paying for the high upfront costs of the unneeded investment, including additional power lines that will be necessary to run the intermittent, unreliable wind energy from rural New York to New York City. Fortunately, the people are fighting back with proposed ordinances against wind turbines. This is not only good for residents and the environment, it is good for ratepayers across the state and taxpayers across the nation. (Part II tomorrow will overview Ohio’s wind turbine siting debate.)
The New York towns of Yates and Somerset are faced with the prospect of up to 70 massive turbines, 600–630 feet tall, which would tower over everything else. The project by APEX Clean Energy, Lighthouse Wind LLC, now has to deal with the implications of a new 54-page bylaw by Somerset that could well prove to be insurmountable.
Yates has already unanimously rejected the project. Stated Town Supervisor James Simon: “It puts the political and municipal opposition all in a monolithic setting.Both towns, both counties, both boards of health, Sen. Ortt, U.S. Congressman Collins, they’re against this project.”
Enter Somerset’s strongly placed and well researched proposed bylaw. The WIND ENERGY zoning bylaw is being viewed as thoughtful and detailed. Here are some of our favorite inclusions or clauses (at times paraphrased or variously quoted). (The entire bylaw proposal, to be revisited Feb 1, is here.)
The preamble states the importance of what communities have faced with industrial wind proliferation:
Short-sighted planning has often resulted in creation of problem industries which adversely affect public health and quality of life, examples are found in Somerset, as well as many other areas of New York State, where abandoned buildings and brownfields exist, health has been adversely affected, pollution has been proliferated, quality of life has been diminished, aesthetics have been compromised and community character has been degraded. Commercial Wind Energy Facilities are not exempt from these problems and careful siting and protections are of paramount importance. Local communities have, through zoning, site plan approval, regulation and careful planning been primary protectors of their citizenry.
Also in the preamble to the bylaw sections is a reminder to the developer and permitting agencies that:
The town of Somerset is located on a major migration route for many species of birds, and is habitat for many species, both year round and seasonal. The bat population in the Town of Somerset is important and in distress. Commercial/Industrial Wind Energy Facilities are known to pose danger to birds and bats, and have been demonstrated to kill numerous members of both species annually.
Our favorite clauses follow (all references and quotes drawn from the bylaw already noted in the link):
Any person owning, controlling or managing any building, structure or land who shall undertake a Wind Energy Facility in violation of this Local Law or, operates such facility in noncompliance with the terms and conditions of any permit issued pursuant to this Local Law, shall be guilty of a violation and subject to a fine of not more than $250.00 or to imprisonment for a period of not more than 15 days, or to both such fine and imprisonment. Every such person shall be deemed guilty of a separate offense for each week such violation shall continue.
OF SPECIAL NOTE: Wildlife Impacts
An analysis of impacts on local wildlife shall be prepared, addressing impacts anticipated during construction, reconstruction, modification, or operation of each WECS. Wildlife impacts to be considered shall include, at a minimum, anticipated impacts on flying creatures (birds, bats, insects), as well as wild creatures existing at ground level. An assessment of the impact of the proposed development on the local flora and fauna.
The analysis will include migratory and resident avian species and bat species. The scope of such assessment shall take into consideration New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service studies, standards and recommendations and must at a minimum consist of pre-construction data of three years, and literature/ studies/survey for threatened and endangered and species of concern and migratory species that provide relevant information on critical flyways and migration routes, and shall describe the potential impacts of any proposed facilities on bird and bat species, and an avoidance or mitigation plan to address any impacts, as well as plans for three-year post-installation studies.
These reports shall provide sufficient information to allow the Town Board to make a determination on any mitigation conditions or a denial of permits as provided in standards for Commercial/Industrial WECS Section.” (Our suggestion: that these three year pre and post studies be performed by independent and respected wildlife and wind turbine experts.)
Other communities across the way, such as in the UK, have been successful in beating back projects with bylaws. In 2011, a Germany developer was not able to proceed: the project was deemed “too big, having too much potential for impact on the people living there, and because it would ‘spoil’ the countryside.”
Hopefully, Somerset’s advance restrictions on any wind project will pay off in preserved “spaces.”
Community vigilance by way of bylaws is obviously putting pressure on wind turbine projects: Apex is already “considering” its options regarding the Lighthouse Wind LLC.
Letter from Al Isselhard, Co-founding member of Great Lakes Wind Truth