By KATHY KELLOGG
FREDONIA – Town government officials were told Tuesday they should obtain “good science” before making any decisions on wind farm proposals, and should limit local vulnerability by passing special laws, requiring contract commitments from the developer and enacting zoning protections.
“Don’t sit on the sidelines,” cautioned Daniel Spitzer, a lawyer and one of six speakers who spoke to 65 municipal officials at a Wind Energy Conference at the Erie 2 BOCES LoGuidice Center.
“Get yourself into the game. If you don’t have zoning, you still have the authority to regulate land use,” he said.
He echoed the other speakers who encouraged small-town officials to negotiate reasonable financial packages, like one in Lewis County which began at $5,000 per megawatt and now has been capped at about $42,000 per tower.
The Salamanca-based Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board, mindful of Gov. George E. Pataki’s order that 20 percent of state agency power needs must be purchased from renewable resources by 2010, staged the conference to provide local officials with tools necessary as the industry rushes to establish new wind farms.
Daniel Reynolds, a regional analyst for Southern Tier West, said new zoning and local laws are now being written to cover wind farm development in Centerville in Allegany County, and in Arkwright and Stockton in Chautauqua County.
He added that as many as nine small towns have been approached by wind developers and some are in the formative stages of hosting wind farms. Seven wind projects are up and running and 25 to 30 more may dot the landscape before the governor’s goals are met.
Linda King, a land-use specialist with the state Department of State warned there are still many communities that have no comprehensive plans in place to guide development. She said some officials say it is not needed because populations and growth are low.
“You leave yourself vulnerable,” she said, noting unrestricted growth could result in undesirable activities such as adult book stores, landfills and residential sprawl.
Matt Brower of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets addressed the need to protect farmland through planning and on-site monitors during and after construction of turbines and transmission lines, which take up roughly one acre per tower.
Spitzer, who has worked for towns positioned on both sides of siting controversies, and has counted seven possible wind farms considering Wyoming County alone, reminded the audience that they have a responsibility to obtain good science and put protections in place before making decisions.
Richard Graham, Lewis County’s attorney, said the project timing worked to the host’s advantage when his community’s manufacturing firms were closing. A series of mechanisms were set up, some through the efforts of local leaders, including an Empire Zone designation for each tower that reimburses the wind developer for more than $8 million in payments in lieu of taxes over 15 years.
“The ultimate goal is to have a financial commodity [the developer] can sell on the open market,” Graham said.
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