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Wound-up crowd talks wind turbines

GAINEs – The public hearing on setting a fee schedule for small wind turbines and other types of energy generation sources brought in a large crowd to the Gaines Town Board meeting Tuesday.

The town is considering setting up fees to cover the costs of reviewing the permits and plans needed to construct and maintain wind energy conversion systems, permanent back-up generators and roof-top solar panels.

The fees for generators and solar panel permits, which are at the rate the town currently charges, were not a focus of the meeting – instead attendees repeatedly questioned both the WECS fee schedule and how the board came to the fee levels, which vary between $300 and $500 based on the permits needed and the height of the turbine.

In particular, attention was given to whether local officials who have pursued permits for the types of energy generating systems covered by fees should have contributed to the discussion of fees. Councilperson David Kast said he has an approved permit for a WECS and had nothing to gain from the new fee schedule.

“I’m sick and tired of the allegations,” Kast said. “I filed for a permit just like anyone else would … (and received the

permit) well before the discussion of a fee schedule.”

When asked whether he was acting on the permit, Kast initially responded that it was a private matter. The councilperson then elaborated by pointing out that the process of adding a wind turbine was not an easy task.

“On any project there is a lot of paperwork,” Kast said. “You just don’t go in and walk out with everything approved.”

Town Attorney Douglas Heath responded that every piece of legislation adopted by town board has an effect on both the board and residents.

“Somebody has to enact legislation,” Heath said.

Board members stressed that the process of setting up a fee schedule was one they will not finish until September at the earliest, with the fee guidelines a work in progress.

“We don’t have enough information from other municipalities and there’s inconsistencies on what we’ve heard, so I don’t think we should act on this today,” Supervisor Bill Lattin said.

Board members said they will examine the issue again at the town’s August meeting, with changes including closing gaps in the fee schedule one area that will be addressed. The current proposal includes a $300 fee for non-agricultural wind turbines below 65 feet and then a $400 fee if the turbine is between 85 and 140 feet, with no guidelines for anything between 65 and 80 feet.