GALLATIN–State Department of Agriculture and Markets law dictates that Dr. Daniel Melamed can have a wind turbine to produce power for his goat and sheep farm and the only aspect related to the apparatus that town officials can regulate is the height.
That is the message attorney Robert Fitzsimmons conveyed to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) at an April 8 special meeting called to review Dr. Melamed’s area variance application and supporting documentation for relief from the town zoning law’s 75-foot-height limit. The meeting was also a continued public hearing on the matter.
Owner/operator of Buckwheat Bridge Angoras at 111 Kozlowski Road, Dr. Melamed proposes to erect a 135-foot high wind turbine on his 200-acre property to produce electricity for the processing of farm products–wool yarn and mohair socks–as well as other farm uses.
The farm is “located within Columbia County Agricultural District No. 4” and “is subject to an agricultural assessment,” according to Ag and Markets.
But if the town will not grant the doctor, a urologist, a variance for a wind turbine for the full height he requests, a 120-foot tower with 15-foot-long blades, it doesn’t seem that a shorter one is an option, both because a shorter one won’t produce the power the farm needs and because it won’t meet New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) incentive requirements.
In a March 6 letter to Mr. Fitzsimmons, the town’s special council on the Melamed matter, Ag and Markets Senior Attorney Danielle Cordier reiterated her department’s position “that requiring Buckwheat Bridge Angoras to obtain a special [use] permit or site plan approval unreasonably restricts the farm operation in violation of [Agriculture and Markets Law].”
Ms. Cordier also said her department agreed with the town’s assessment that to proceed with his project, Dr. Melamed should move forward with his application for an area variance.
Dr. Melamed provided the ZBA with a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which signed off on the wind turbine height. Robert Somers, manager of the Farmland Protection Unit at Ag and Markets, told the board that not until a structure reaches 200 feet is the “height of concern to the FAA.”
The doctor also handed over a map of his property that indicated the intended location of the wind turbine 540 feet from the road. He also provided a letter from his processor verifying an estimate of the amount of electricity needed to operate the farm’s spinning mill on a full-time basis.
ZBA Chair Fred Simoncini asked the applicant for documentation about why the wind turbine has to be higher than 75 feet.
Dr. Gay Canough, a physicist and president of ETM Solar Works, the company that would supply Dr. Melamed’s wind turbine, told those present that “the higher you go, the higher the [wind] velocity.”
At the 75-foot town height limitation, the wind turbine would produce 5,900 kilowatt hours less than the amount needed for the farm. Also, Dr. Melamed would not be able to get a NYSERDA incentive because the wind speed would be so low, she said.
To achieve at least the 11 mph average wind speed necessary to produce adequate power for the farm’s needs, the 120-foot tower is needed for the minimum output, said Dr. Canough.
Mr. Somers told the board that NYSERDA will only provide incentives for 110% of the farm’s electrical usage. So, if the wind turbine produces 10% more power than the farm uses, the doctor would be given a credit toward his electric bill for that amount.
No money would exchange hands, he said.
Town Engineer Raymond Jurkowski wanted to know the specific latitude and longitude at which wind data for the Buckwheat Bridge Angoras site was taken to see if the elevation was similar.
Dr. Canough and her associate explained that they had taken data–not at the farm site–but at various sites within a radius of the farm site according to state standards. They said that “even NYSERDA would accept this data over any [other] data we could possibly collect.”
Dr. Melamed said that he has used an anemometer to collect wind data at the site, but had only run tests at 30 feet up. He said the data would have to be extrapolated up to 120 feet.
Audience member Ira Levy wanted to know how Gallatin zoning law could be accused of unreasonably regulating or restricting farming, when Dr. Melamed has the ability to put a plug in a wall outlet and get all the power he needs. “Why is he entitled to pre-empt zoning [for a wind turbine]?” Mr. Levy also questioned information posted on the Buckwheat Bridge Angora website, which said that existing solar panels on the farm were producing an excess of power that was metered back into the system.
Dr. Melamed said at the time the website was written, that was true, but now the solar panels are not able to meet the farm’s needs. He also said that producing his yarn and socks with renewable energy allows him to sell them to people concerned about the environment for a higher price.
“Renewable energy is not absolutely necessary for anyone or may be absolutely necessary for everyone,” said Dr. Melamed, adding that the town’s zoning code is arbitrary because it allows cell phone towers up to 199 feet.
In order to conform to the zoning code, Dr. Melamed said his wind tower would have to be 60 feet high so that with 15-foot blades, it would not exceed 75 feet in height.
Tower manufacturers “don’t even make them that short,” he said.
Farmer Ed Hull, Dr. Melamed’s neighbor, said he did not understand why the doctor could not install more solar panels to produce more power instead of installing a wind turbine. Mr. Hull said he feared the noise and vibration from the wind turbine would present health risks to him and his family.
“I live right across [from the wind turbine site]. Does one farmer trump another farmer? What if there are ill effects? Can you guarantee there will be no effects to myself or my family?” questioned Mr. Hull.
He also wanted to know what would happen if the wind turbine was struck by lightning and the lightning was conducted through the ground and somehow destroyed all the electrical appliances in the Hull home and the welders in his garage.
The turbine will automatically disconnect itself from the power grid in the event of a lightning strike, according to the supplier.
A woman in the audience said she was afraid of the noise and the strobe lighting. She said the wind turbine would present health issues to people with migraines and seizures.
She also said that when she bought her property in 2000, she did so with the expectation that zoning law would be enforced and no wind turbine would be allowed to exceed 75 feet in height.
Other audience members pointed out that the wind turbine would obstruct the view, lower their property values but not reduce their taxes.
A man who lives in Valatie and represented the Columbia County Farm Bureau said people who live in agricultural districts should expect the sights, sounds and smells that are part and parcel of what goes on in an Ag district.
Another man wanted to know “where does the undue burden [on Buckwheat Bridge Angoras] kick-in?” and “Why is it our responsibility to assume the higher height?”
After an hour and 15 minutes, ZBA Chairman Simoncini, who frequently had to scold disruptive audience members and redirect attention to the tower height issue, adjourned the public hearing until Tuesday, May 13.
Following the receipt of all outstanding information the public hearing will be closed and the ZBA will discuss the matter, answer some area variance findings and decision questions and decide whether to grant or not grant the variance.
By Diane Valden
10 April 2008
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