No resolution is expected any time soon in the first of what could be multiple plans to build electrical generating facilities in northern Potter County using wind turbines.
An international energy giant, AES Corporation, has fired the first volley. AES has been navigating a series of regulatory hurdles in pursuit of a plan to erect 55 of the massive white towers with long, rotating blades on property leased from approximately 20 landowners.
At a public hearing last week, the Ulysses Township Board of Supervisors heard howls of protest about the Fox Hill Wind Energy Project, along with a smaller contingent of supportive comments.
One of the supervisors, Jim Hoopes, has disengaged himself from the board’s public deliberations because he stands to benefit from his leases with AES. Supervisors Marc Bennett and Claude Seely have remained in a listening mode – and they’ve been hearing plenty. Seely has made comments suggesting his general support for the AES plan, based on a belief in renewable energy to address the nation’s need for electricity.
Critics of the plan and the township’s regulations are warning of excessive noise, shadow flicker and other intrusions that they say will adversely affect neighbors’ quality of life and lower property values. They also point out that wind intensity in the project area is marginal, and turbines are more fitting in areas where there is stronger wind.
And they allege that the “renewable energy” selling point is a smokescreen, and that AES is taking advantage of state tax incentives, as well as the three-year production tax credit for wind power developers contained in the 2009 federal economic stimulus legislation.
AES concedes that the towers are huge, extending 450 feet from the ground to the farthest tip of the blade. (The Statue of Liberty is 305 feet from the ground to the tip of the torch’s flame). The project covers 10,000 acres, with about 350 acres to be disturbed. Electricity generated by the machines will be fed into the national grid through nearby transmission lines.
Wind energy plans have also been introduced in Hector, Allegany, Homer, Sweden, Hebron and Eulalia townships, but none of those projects has reached the formal application stage.
Local governments in Potter County, including Ulysses Township, have been adopting regulations that are more accommodating to the industry than a countywide ordinance that was passed by the Board of Commissioners following a heated public hearing.
Much of the debate since 2007 has focused on how far wind turbines should be set back from adjacent properties, and the amount of noise generated by the turbines that should be permissible at a neighboring occupied property.
Commissioner Paul Heimel, who headed up the research for the county board and visited several industrial wind plants, defended what he called “an appropriate countywide ordinance that limited the noise and other potential adverse impacts of industrial wind turbines on neighboring homeowners.”
“The county’s ordinance is scientifi- cally based through input from acoustic engineers and other experts,” Heimel said. “It contains provisions which allow industrial wind energy projects to move forward with minimum disturbance to non-participating homeowners. We felt an obligation to protect not only the rights of the property owners who stood to benefit economically by leasing, but also those neighbors whose health, property values and quality of life could be adversely affected. I believe we struck the proper balance.”
Ulysses Township Supervisors had another perspective. The township formed its own Planning Commission, adopted its own Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (which is similar to the county’s ordinance with the exception of the Industrial Wind energy regulations), and AES Corporation is now seeking approval from the township.
Apparently, there are legal precedents which allow a development company such as AES to circumvent county subdivision regulations in those instances where municipal regulations are less stringent.
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