When state Sen. Sean Kean saw the fierce opposition a proposed wind turbine stirred in his shore-area district, he came up with a solution: Bar the construction of industrial electricity-generating windmills within 2,000 feet of any residentially zoned land.
But in the most densely populated state in the nation, environmentalists say it’s a case of “not in my back yard” gone wild. They say it would make it nearly impossible to put windmills on land along the wind-swept Jersey Shore.
“There’s probably no place on the Jersey Shore except for Long Beach Island that’s not within 2,000 feet of a home,” said Sierra Club New Jersey Director Jeff Tittel.
The bill (S2374) would not affect proposed offshore wind power projects, which would usually be a longer distance from shore. While the state Energy Master Plan calls for the lion’s share of wind power to be generated offshore, environmentalists say everything counts in developing clean, renewable energy.
“Our offshore wind potential is much greater than our onshore wind potential, but beggars can’t be choosers,” said David Pringle, political director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. “We shouldn’t be putting unnecessary restrictions on this resource.”
Kean, R-Monmouth, drafted the bill after a proposed 325-foot windmill by Department of Military and Veterans Affairs at the National Guard training center in Sea Girt drew protests from hundreds of residents concerned it would threaten birds, cause noise, pose health risks and decrease property values. The Sea Girt council in September passed a resolution opposing building the turbine on the state-owned land.
While his bill faces an uncertain future Ð Assembly Environment Committee Chairman John McKeon, D-Essex, says he doesn’t plan to give the lower house version a hearing Ð Kean says it shows there can be considerable blowback from wind projects.
The bill says it is meant to prevent “wind turbine syndrome,” in which close proximity to a turbine allegedly causes a host of health problems, including insomnia, headaches and learning disabilities. But the science behind the phenomenon, first published in a study by Dr. Nina Pierpont, is heavily debated.
“I don’t know what wind turbine syndrome is. I don’t think there’s any scientific basis for that claim,” said Fred DeSanti, a consultant for The Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority, which is building a windmill slated to begin operating in January at a treatment plant in Union Beach, Monmouth County. “It’s a fan that blows in the wind and creates electricity. This is not some alien device.”
Kean also said turbines could also bring down property values, especially in well-to-do coastal areas like Sea Girt.
“When you’re talking about people who are paying $15,000 to $20,000 and north in property taxes, the question becomes how does the windmill devalue the property?” he said.
Gary Cadematori, a community activist who opposes the Sea Girt turbine, said his group has gotten letters from residents of Ocean Gate Ð which recently put a turbine up at its municipal building and plans another at a sewerage treatment plant Ð complaining the noise was “driving them crazy.”
“You talk to the utility companies who are putting these things up, it’s one thing. Talk to the people living with them, and it’s another,” he said.
John Abene, president of Delsea Energy, said the proposed 2,000 foot buffer would “negatively affect” some of his planned wind power projects, including one on the site of a former landfill in Pennsville, Salem County.
Kean said he is willing to reduce the buffer zone, possibly to 1,000 feet. A planned windmill for Bayonne, in urban Hudson County, would be less than 1,000 feet from a residential neighborhood.
At New Jersey’s only large wind energy project, in Atlantic City, five turbines loom over a sewerage treatment plant, about 1,800 feet from the nearest neighborhood.
“The community has kind of embraced these windmills,” said Tom Lauletta, vice president of wastewater at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, which runs the treatment plant but does not own the turbines. “And I sit underneath them all day long. I don’t hear them at all.”
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