The winds are changing in Tompkins County.
After some notable recent setbacks, wind energy proponents in the county have several projects to look forward to again.
Ithaca College recently received approval to set up a meteorological tower on part of its South Hill property to measure wind and see whether conditions are appropriate for building a wind turbine.
The Enfield wind farm proposal, after being killed by a questionable law late last year, has new life with a new town board.
And the Town of Ithaca is nearing approval of a Small Wind Energy Facility law to make it easier for residents to install their own residential-scale windmills.
“Obviously we all want to transition to more sustainable energy sources and wind is certainly one of them,” said Edward Marx, Tompkins County commissioner of Planning and Public Works. “If it can be appropriately sited in ways that benefit overall the community and minimize negative impacts, it hopefully can be part of our energy future in the county.”
The college’s recent approvals from the Town of Ithaca Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals are not for a turbine, but for the tower to measure whether a turbine could go up at 144 E. King Road.
The college “certainly” hopes that someday a wind turbine could be placed at the site, said spokesman Dave Maley.
“It’s appropriate especially that we’re talking about this during Earth Week,” Maley said. “This is one more way that the college is looking to potentially reduce its carbon footprint.”
Marx said he had hoped the town would require Ithaca College to do more investigation of the potential impacts of an actual wind turbine, not just the meteorological tower.
An industrial-scale wind turbine could have “visual impact and potentially other impacts to properties in the surrounding area and also potentially impacts to our county public safety communication system, which uses a tower on South Hill not that far from this site and has communication links in the direction of this tower to other towers in the county,” Marx said.
Marx likened the situation to Cornell’s failed 2005 proposal to build up to eight industrial-scale wind turbines in the Mount Pleasant area of Dryden.
Outcry from neighbors who did not want the turbines and concern by county planning about whether the turbines would interfere with the airport’s landing zone resulted in Cornell abandoning the idea.
“There was a lot of discussion, a lot of work done only to find out that you probably couldn’t build a tower there because of the airport landing zone,” Marx said.
Jonathan Kanter, director of planning for the town, responded that Ithaca College’s tower is just a tower, not a wind turbine.
“At this point it’s not even known whether a full wind tower would even be feasible,” he said. “The whole purpose of the meteorological tower installation is to collect data – strictly to collect data – to determine what the climatic conditions are on the South Hill.”
If the college finds conditions are favorable and wants to put in a turbine, they would “absolutely” have to come back to the town for approval, Kanter said.
Enfield’s town board last month repealed a law that would have eliminated developer John Rancich’s proposal for a 10- to 12-turbine, roughly $160 million wind farm on Connecticut Hill.
The board is working on a new law and is currently awaiting a recommendation by the town planning board, said Supervisor Frank Podufalski.
Last October, the planning board gave up on providing a recommendation because of interruption by unruly audience members opposed to the wind farm.
“We took it back to a point in time last October where (the Planning Board) handed it over to the (Town Board),” Podufalski said. “We want to do it the right way and make sure that when we’re done, it’s good for everybody concerned – the citizens, the developers, everybody.”
Some immediate neighbors on Connecticut Hill oppose the farm primarily because of concern about noise, safety and negative impact on their property value.
The spot proposed for the farm is also near the municipal line for the Town of Newfield, and two Newfield residents have approached their town board asking that they enact a law regulating wind turbines, said Newfield Town Clerk Katherine Crance.
Rancich said he wants to “work with the town” to make his proposal safe and profitable. Rancich is offering to make a yearly payment to the Town of Enfield of $35,000 or 10 percent of the profits from the wind farm, whichever is more.
Likely in the next two or three months, the Town of Ithaca will consider a law to make it easier for individuals to put up small-scale windmills in their own backyards, said Supervisor Herb Engman.
“We wanted to make sure that homeowners had the ability to set up a reasonably sized wind energy system safely and in consideration of the neighbors,” Engman said.
The town has been working on the law for about a year; it is being considered by the town’s Planning and Conservation boards, he said.
As it stands, the law would allow windmills of up to 145 feet that produce noise no more than 10 decibels above the ambient sound level, as measured at a neighboring property line.
The law would require a special permit for windmills within 500 feet of certain natural areas to minimize impact on birds and bats and would require a “fall zone” setback “at least equal to the facility’s height plus ten feet,” according to a memo from Kanter to the Town Board.
Engman said the Town has considered and continues to seek information about things like potential conflicts with wildlife, flickering, safety and interference with the county’s new emergency communication system.
“Even if the possibility is small, we don’t want to interfere with a $20 million project,” he said.
Before enacting the law, the town will hold a public hearing, Engman said.
Marx said he plans this year to take a comprehensive look at the county to determine which areas are best suited for wind development, based on wind patterns, population density, scenic value and other land use.
“Wind energy probably doesn’t fit everywhere,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to investigate this year and see where might it be most suitable in Tompkins County.”
By Krisy Gashler
24 April 2008
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