More than 50 concerned residents packed a planning board meeting Thursday night to learn more about 36 turbines proposed to be built on 7,500 acres south of Route 20 in the town of Madison.
Construction on the $110 million project known as Rolling Upland Wind Farm isn’t expected until 2015, but the project has already incited controversy in the rural township in eastern Madison County.
The large turnout moved the meeting from the small municipal offices to the town’s fire department, where the majority of residents stood for nearly two hours as the six-member planning board worked with a consultant to order an environmental review of the project.
The project would be the area’s biggest wind power project to date. The state’s first seven windmills went up in Madison in 2000. The 11.55 megawatt project generates enough electricity to power approximately 3,000 homes a year.
Two years later, 20 turbines went up in the town of Fenner. In 2007, 23 windmills were built on 3,500 acres in the Madison County towns of Stockbridge, Madison and Eaton and in the Oneida County town of Augusta.
Developer EDP Renewables North America purchased the original Madison Wind farm about eight years ago and owns and operates two large North Country wind farms.
Before the project is approved, the town will need to issue a special use permit – a process that was not in place when the original windmills were built in 2000.
Planning board members said they have been working to add such zoning and land use regulations to the municipal code.
“We don’t just need it for windmills,” said planning board member Paul Crovella. “We need it for where the town of Madison is going.”
Residents at the meeting raised concerns about impacts on their well water and noise pollution. Some offered photos of the views from their homes and expressed concerns the the proposed turbines would stand 100 feet taller than the existing windmills.
Planning board members said the environmental review would address the rural town’s aesthetic resources and possible impacts on the Route 20, which has been named a state scenic byway.
Landowner Carl Stone, whose land is home to one of the original windmills, spoke of his positive experience with the developer.
“Because I receive a check quarterly from them does not make me a liar,” Stone said. “I have more experience with windfarms than anyone in state.”
Stone’s testimony was answered by another resident simply said: “I don’t want one in front of my house.”
Noting that many of the residents had never heard about the new windmils until Thursday night’s meeting, resident and local attorney Jane Welsh called for more communication from the developer.
“This has to be open, transparent and it has to be informed,” Welsh said.
Project manager Jeffrey Nemeth said that public information meetings on the project will be scheduled in late March and early April. Public hearings will also follow the environmental impact statement commissioned by the planning board Thursday night.
“This is the starting point,” Nemeth said.