MODEL ORDINANCE: Columbia Law School draft ‘outdated,’ some turbine foes suggest.
Columbia Law School has put its name on a model ordinance for wind turbine zoning, but local critics of wind power development say it isn’t restrictive enough.
The Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School released the draft ordinance Tuesday.
“Certainly in New York state, wind power is the most frequently mentioned new source of renewable energy,” said Michael B. Gerrard, the center’s director and the Andrew Sabin professor of professional practice. “So a local ordinance seemed to be very appropriate. The overall effort is to help local entities adopt rational, legal structures for structures aiming to address climate change. We’re hoping to save time and effort by doing some of the spade work for them.”
The ordinance includes rules for commercial wind energy facilities on permits, approvals, oversight and operations. It is designed for municipalities in New York, but could be modified for use in other states. The center will issue a revised version after receiving comments on this draft.
But locals who have worked for protective wind power ordinances here don’t think the law will stand up to scrutiny.
Patricia A. Booras-Miller, LaFargeville, a member of the Environmentally Concerned Citizens Organization of Jefferson County, called the law “outdated.”
“Townships have become more intelligent with wind development,” she said. “This is something to try to come in and try and pacify them by using the name of Columbia Law School.”
Cape Vincent resident Clifford J. Schneider agreed, saying the law is similar to early suggestions the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority had in its “tool kit,” available online.
“Later on, we come to find out a lot of those draft wind laws were developer-friendly,” Mr. Schneider said. “Many communities that have really started to study it have come away with different conclusions.”
The model ordinance is based on wind ordinances in New York state, the center said.
But many communities that adopted laws early on have revised or at least researched changing those laws, including Henderson, Hammond, Clayton and Orleans, Mr. Schneider said.
The model ordinance outlines limits including:
- A maximum height of 500 feet.
- A distance of 1.5 times the tower height from existing residences on nonparticipating property owners’ land.
- A distance of twice the height of the tower from schools, hospitals, churches and public libraries.
- A distance of one time the tower’s height from property lines, roads and utility lines and structures.
- No greater than 45 decibels of audible noise.
- Ambient noise should be raised no more than three decibels at receptors within 2,500 feet of the site property line.
Landowners also could sign waivers to reduce the setbacks.
All of the setbacks are just guidelines and the law mentions the range of distances common among laws in the state.
“We drew upon a large number of existing ordinances to try to identify the common terms and best practices,” Mr. Gerrard said. “We did see quite a range both in noise, setbacks and permissible height.”
The center followed a similar process when it developed a model green building ordinance a few months ago, he said. After a number of comments, the center refined and clarified the draft, leaving in a range of options for municipalities.
“We would welcome comments on whether a broader range of numbers should be inserted,” Mr. Gerrard said. “Obviously, we don’t have the power to dictate anything to anyone.”
The center next will work on a model solar power siting ordinance.
The setbacks and noise are where Mr. Schneider and others took issue with the model law.
“With 45 or 50 dBA standard, a lot of communities had adopted that right out of NYSERDA tool kit, but since then have come back and said, ‘Whoa! We need to go back and revise this,'” he said.
The relative standard of three decibels above ambient is more restrictive than the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s guideline of six decibels above ambient.
“Under the state standard, the five is just noticeable over the ambient noise,” Mr. Schneider said. “That sentence says it’s really restrictive.”
Another Cape Vincent resident, John L. Byrne, said the relative standard can be manipulated if the law fails to describe how the measurements should be taken.
Developers hire consultants who will find the ambient noise level that is most attractive for development, Mr. Byrne said.
“They’ll tell you your sound level is 42 or 38,” he said. “If you let the developers or the state do the study, I’m not sure they have the residents’ best interest in mind.”
The ordinance also calls for an emergency response plan, decommissioning agreement, transportation plan, noise survey and analysis on the effects of the project on bird populations, communications and soils, and the maximum distances for ice throw, blade throw and spread of shadow flicker. It includes methods for enforcement and maintenance of the facility.
Of the Jefferson County wind developers, none was available to comment on the draft law Wednesday.
After years of dealing with wind turbine development, “planning boards are so much more intelligent,” Ms. Booras-Miller said. “I think you’re going to find that here.”
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