HAMLIN – Town residents will have a chance Thursday to air their grievances over proposed laws to regulate wind turbines.
The town’s debate is one that is playing out in communities throughout western New York that are wrestling with the issue of wind power.
In late 2006, wind farm developer Competitive Power Ventures Inc. erected two devices in northwest Hamlin to study whether it would be a good place for a wind farm.
That’s when leaders of the 9,000-resident town realized they had no rules to govern where such a farm could go. In March 2007, the board enacted a moratorium on wind farms in order to draft new laws.
“Under the law we have now, all they’d need to put up a wind tower is a height variance and a building permit,” said Town Supervisor Dennis Roach.
His community is the first in Monroe County to face pressure from wind developers, and other communities may look to Hamlin’s guidelines to establish their own. Northern Hamlin is one of only a handful of places in Monroe County – mostly near the shore of Lake Ontario – where wind power is viable because of abundant available land and a regular supply of wind.
After more than a year of study and consultation with lawyers and town residents, Hamlin’s Town Board is getting ready to adopt wind power rules. They would require creating a special zoning district as the only place suitable for towers; minimum distances between towers and residences; studies of how each proposed tower might affect migratory bird and bat populations; and noise restrictions.
“The Town Board has considered all the issues, we’ve had numerous public hearings and at this point, I consider the regulations as something that protects the town,” said Roach.
But some residents disagree, saying the proposal doesn’t go far enough, doesn’t protect homeowners living near where towers might go and overlooks critical health and safety issues.
“These things (the towers) should never be in a residential area where there are a lot of people, said Paul Lapinski of Redman Road.
Not an approval
The Town Board is not considering any proposals for wind farms right now, although one may be on the horizon. When Competitive Power Ventures put up the meteorological towers to study weather conditions, the company said it might want 40 to 50 commercial turbines in an area roughly bounded by Redman, Cook, Monroe-Orleans County Line and Morton roads.
The project has been taken over by Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA, a subsidiary of the Spanish company Iberdrola, S.A., which calls itself the world’s leading wind energy company.
An Iberdrola representative, who did not return a call seeking comment, visited Hamlin earlier this year to extol the virtues of wind power.
Roach said he was certain the company – which has already negotiated turbine site leases with some landowners – will make an official proposal soon after the laws are adopted. Adopting the laws does not approve a wind farm, he said.
“All we are doing is providing the process by which an application for a farm can be considered,” said Roach.
Before any tower could be built, developers would first need a zoning variance, then a special use permit for each turbine. And the new law requires environmental studies for each tower regarding birds, traffic, decommissioning, noise, flicker, aesthetics and more.
Lapinski, a member of the citizen activist Hamlin Preservation Group, doesn’t want to look out his windows and see clusters of 400-foot-tall wind turbines. He doesn’t want to hear the droning “whump, whump, whump” of the towers when they’re generating power. And he doesn’t want to sit through backyard picnics while the sun flickers intermittently through spinning turbine blades.
“The town is not listening to the residents. The majority of people who’ve attended the public meetings aren’t in favor of the proposed setbacks – this is about the health, welfare and safety of the people of Hamlin.”
Lapinski’s group – which has provided the town with testimonials from various experts and complaints from people who live near wind farms – wants even stronger laws.
“I’m not against green power, but other places where they’re putting these kinds of farms aren’t as populated as Hamlin,” he said, noting there are about 120 homes in the area under consideration.
Paul Carr, a professor of engineering management at Cornell University, wrote to Hamlin officials in February about the law’s proposed setbacks, which the town would require at a minimum of 1,200 feet from any residence and 600 feet from any roadway or property line.
Carr said those distances are “dangerously inadequate.”
He said his conclusion is a simple “matter of physics,” when it comes to such issues as ice chunks flinging off of spinning blades or blades breaking. He’s calculated that hurled ice could potentially fly as far as 1,700 feet from a tower.
“My opinion is that setbacks for these towers should be at least four times the height of the tower,” he said.
But industry group American Wind Energy Association says such fears are overblown.
According to the group, turbines can sense the build up of ice and stop spinning, thereby eliminating ice throw. And, the group asserts, broken blades being thrown by a turbine is “unheard of,” given today’s “better turbine design and engineering.”
Hamlin the first
Hamlin is the first town in Monroe County to catch the eye of wind power developers, although there are other projects completed or under way in New York. Turbines are popping up in areas such as Alabama, Genesee County, and elsewhere in Madison, Lewis, Erie, Clinton and Wyoming counties. Towns in Wayne County are partnering with a wind company.
State officials have set a goal of producing 25 percent of power in the state from renewable energy by 2012. According to AWEA, wind power is generating just over 1 percent of all electricity consumed in the United States, roughly enough to power 4.5 million homes.
Last year alone, enough new turbines went online nationally to account for about a third of all domestic wind power produced, and AWEA expects as many new wind projects in 2008.
The push for wind farms “isn’t something that’s going to go away,” said Lapinski, who hopes for a big turnout at Thursday’s public hearing. “If we’re going to make these laws, we have to make sure they’re done right.”
Roach said the Town Board would take two weeks to consider issues raised by residents, then plans to meet to approve a proposal on April 24.
The new laws would go into effect 30 days after approval.
“I really think this will help Hamlin maintain its rural, agricultural environment,” said Roach. “We are making the town safer by putting these regulations in effect.”
Meaghan M. McDermott • Staff writer • April 9, 2008
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