Windmills in the Town of Ithaca will have to wait at least another month.
Ithaca’s Town Board delayed a decision on allowing residential-scale wind energy facilities at their meeting Monday night. Concern about noise produced by windmills dominated the discussion, and the board voted unanimously to send the law back to committee.
The issue is scheduled to be back on the board’s July 7 agenda.
The law as it’s written allows windmills that will produce up to 10 decibels of additional noise above the ambient sound level, as measured at a neighbor’s property line.
The law also includes other protections for neighbors, such as setback requirements and lighting restrictions. The restrictions mean that “extremely few” windmills would actually go up if the law passes, said Supervisor Herb Engman.
Forest Home residents and brothers Doug and Bruce Brittain requested that the board reduce the noise threshold to 5 decibels, and carried out an on-the-spot experiment with loud, calibrated buzzers to illustrate just how loud a 10-decibel increase can be.
“Ten decibels is a huge increase,” Bruce Brittain said. “It will just dominate the sound in your yard.”
Planning director Jonathan Kanter said a typical windmill produces a 5- to 8-decibel increase over ambient sound and that the town wanted to allow up to 10 decibels to create a buffer for people putting up windmills.
“If you’re normally gonna get in the 5 to 8 range, then 10 sounds pretty good,” he said.
The Towns Codes and Ordinances committee visited existing wind facilities in Caroline and Enfield and did not think the noise from the windmills was a big issue, he said.
According to the International Standards Organization, a 5-decibel increase will result in “sporadic community complaints,” the Brittains reported.
A 10-decibel increase “will likely lead to widespread community complaints,” Bruce Brittain said.
Town Board member Eric Levine argued that the town needs to allow up to 10 decibels because if the noise increase level is set too low and a neighbor complains, the enforcement is drastic – the windmill would have to be turned off.
It costs between $25,000 and $40,000 to install a residential-scale windmill, Kanter said.
Ambient noise level in a neighborhood could be between 50 to 70 decibel, said Town Engineering Department Director Dan Walker. If a stiff wind blows through trees, that could produce 35 decibel all by itself, he said.
The Brittains said the ambient noise level in heavily traveled Forest Home is 45 decibel at night and 55 during the day.
The county planning department also sent a letter to the town expressing concern about a 10-decibel increase, Kanter said.
Town Board member Rich DePaolo, a music producer and sound engineer, said there is a big difference between an 8- and 10-decibel increase. A lower noise restriction wouldn’t eliminate people’s ability to put up windmills, he said; it would just impact what type of windmill they buy.
Some residential windmills produce as little as 35 to 45 decibels of noise, the Brittains said.
Bruce Brittain said he doesn’t plan to put a windmill up on his property but supports wind facilities and wants a town law that will be fair to everyone.
“I want wind power in the town, and I’m afraid that with this increase, someone will complain and that’ll be it for wind power,” he said.
DePaolo also raised concerns about what qualifications someone must have to be allowed to install a windmill.
Town attorney Susan Brock said the language on qualifications was based on the town’s law allowing solar energy facilities.
DePaolo responded that the “average person hasn’t constructed a 125-foot tower.”
Sections of the law related to lighting may be self-contradictory, DePaolo said. The law states that windmills shouldn’t be lighted, to minimize disruption to neighbors but also states that they should be lighted, to minimize accidents with birds.
By Krisy Gashler
10 June 2008
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