By Linda Stout, Journal Staff
A renewable energy ordinance up for a vote by the Dryden Town Board would be the first in Tompkins County to make zoning provisions for household wind energy.
Town Board member Mary Ann Sumner is scheduled to introduce a draft of the law, which also addresses solar energy, at the Thursday, Sept. 14 board meeting.
The provisions would be for small-scale business and residential solar and wind energy.
The ordinance came about after a Dryden couple’s request to build a wind turbine behind their home was rejected.
Sumner said she wants to push the process along because residents and small businesses that add wind or solar equipment could benefit from a variety of incentives. Cash rebates cut the costs of installing wind or solar power, and there are 4 percent loans and other incentives through NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (www.nyserda.org or www.powernaturally.org).
The state – and, at least until 2007, the federal government – are offering income tax credits as well for those who install solar systems approved through NYSERDA.
Sumner said the town’s zoning laws are exclusionary, meaning that with no provision to regulate wind turbines or other renewable energy, building permits could not legally be issued for solar or wind energy devices. But building permits are part of the documentation NYSERDA requires for rebates and other programs.
The town’s environmental planner, Dan Kwasnowski, said he “did all the leg work,” including public meetings and research. The ordinance will provide a “bureaucratic method” for allowing solar and wind power, he said.
“It’s to encourage residents and businesses to generate electricity for their own homes or businesses,” Sumner said.
Sumner and Kwasnowski said the law is careful to distinguish between wind power for household or small-business use and commercial or large-scale wind farms. Wind turbines are restricted to 140 feet under the proposed law. Last year, Cornell University had proposed the erection of eight commercial-sized wind turbines on Mount Pleasant Road, later withdrawing the plan after protest from residents.
When Gay Nicholson spoke about state incentives for wind and solar power at a public meeting in June, she saw a lot of interest; 75 people attended, she said. The Ludlowville resident is a half-time Southern Tier Regional Energy Smart coordinator though Tompkins County Cooperative Extension, and the full-time program coordinator for Sustainable Tompkins.
New York state ranks third in the nation for cash incentives for solar power installations, she said, adding there are also cash incentives for installing smaller wind turbines. In addition, with abatements for owners of renewable energy systems that prevent property taxes from increasing, and the potential for no or significantly reduced monthly NYSEG bills depending upon the size of renewable systems, there can be significant savings over the long haul.
“(Gov.) Pataki has really been a leader pushing for renewable energy. It’s a way to transition into a different economy,” she said.
Stephen Nicholson, who has used solar power on his home on Yaple Road in the Town of Caroline for 18 years and wind for 14, also spoke at the June meeting and gave Dryden Planning Board members a tour so they could see and hear his equipment, including the wind turbine on his property.
“Several people were very interested in the sound issue,” he said. “I hate to call it noise. It was windy enough to see it wasn’t going to be an issue. For the most part, these turbines are very quiet.”
With this law for renewable energy up for vote and residents’ involvement in solar and wind energy, he sees Tompkins County as a renewable energy leader.
“Anything that the Town of Dryden or any local municipality can do to encourage renewable energy, it’s something that has to be done in the next 10 years. That’s the consensus on how much time we have before the effects of climate change are irreversible,” he said, noting that he’d seen the Al Gore movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” and thinks all public officials should.
“Ithaca is one of the solar capitals in the country,” he said, citing NYSERDA figures. “Tompkins County leads New York in the number of systems installed and the number of kilowatt hours. We get 40 percent less (sunshine) than Las Vegas or San Diego, but we get 25 more than Germany, and Germany is the leader of photovoltaic power.”
He also said that of 38 renewable energy businesses in the state, four are in Tompkins County.
And for numbers of renewable households and businesses, Stephen Nicholson thinks Tompkins County comes out well.
“I figured if Tompkins County was a country, we would be No. 6 in the world. That’s pretty good,” he said.
If the legislation is approved Thursday, a public hearing will be scheduled.
The Town of Ithaca is also addressing zoning issues as it relates to the use of renewable energy structures. On Oct. 16, the Town Board will hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance regulating free-standing solar panels.
The move came after four recent applications for such structures were met with hesitation by the town’s governing boards due to the lack of an ordinance. The applicants complained about the hefty load of red tape that resulted from their uncertainty, according to Herb Engman, a town board member.
The proposed ordinance would regulate three aspects of the structures – height, square footage and yard location.
Journal staff reporter Jennie Daley contributed to this report.
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