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State will have a say in local wind projects

The Litchfield Town Board is considering a law that would ban large-scale wind farms, and several other area communities – such as New Hartford – are reviewing wind-power ordinances.

But a change to state law signed Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes decisions about wind projects of 25 megawatts or more out of the hands of local boards and places them with a state-established committee, which would include two members from the community in which a project is proposed.

Reaction to the change has been mixed, but Litchfield Deputy Supervisor Kate Entwistle said she would welcome the state’s involvement because it has the experts and resources to properly address the issue.

“The state’s interpretation could be helpful,” she said.

New Hartford town Supervisor Patrick Tyksinski was less welcoming.

“This is a local zoning issue, and now, the state is trying to butt its nose into an area that has always been a local issue,” Tyksinski said. “You can’t do that. It’s wrong.”

In June, the state Legislature approved the Power NY Act of 2011. The act includes Article X, which regulates the review of power plants of 25 megawatts or more – including wind projects.

It’s expected that it will take another year before the law takes effect because the state Department of Environmental Conservation needs to put its regulations in place.

“We must rebuild and expand New York’s energy infrastructure to meet the demands of the 21st century and grow our economy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This law will lead to new investment and create tens of thousands of jobs across the state.”

Article X

Tyksinski believes Article X is an attempt by state officials to control power allocation – primarily to help the New York City area, he said.

“This is all geared toward downstate,” he said. “People in Albany don’t care about upstate, and it’s too bad.”

But Conor Bambrick, spokesman for state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, who sponsored the legislation, said the law is designed to open the door to more community involvement, including public hearings where the project is proposed.

Each project will have to go through environmental, health and community impact reviews. Wind projects would have to look at visual impacts and effects on bats and birds.

The law also would require “intervener funds” be provided to the municipalities and groups that want to do their own research, Bambrick said.

The state also would be responsible for the legwork that communities normally would have to handle, he said. Large wind projects often become overwhelming for small communities that lack experts in the field.

“This process will provide those experts on the state level,” Bambrick said.

Effect on Litchfield

In Litchfield, Albany-based NorthWind and Power’s plan is to build a 20-megawatt wind farm with eight to 12 turbines on Dry Hill.

That project is smaller than the 25-megawatt limit, so in its current form it would fall under local control even after Article X goes into effect.

But if that project expands or another larger project is proposed, the town addressed Article X in its proposed wind law by declaring town roads can’t be crossed or licensed for use to permit for such a project.

“It’s to make it clear that to the extent the town has power as it relates to their own roads, the town is not by default releasing that,” said Daniel Spitzer, a Buffalo-based attorney who drafted the law for Litchfield.

If Article X had been in effect, the 37-turbine, 74-megawatt Hardscrabble Wind Farm that began operating this year in the Herkimer County towns of Fairfield and Norway would have been determined by the state board.

Fairfield town Supervisor Richard Souza said he wants to further review the law to see whether he thinks it would be helpful or hurtful for other communities where a project is proposed.

“My main focus is – as long as the community as a whole has a say on it,” Souza said.

Officials from Iberdrola Renewables, the developer for the Hardscrabble Wind Farm, are waiting for the legislation to be signed so they can review how it might affect their future efforts to pursue wind projects in the state, spokesman Paul Copleman said.

Regardless of whether a project falls under Article X, Iberdrola would ask for thorough involvement and input from the local community, Copleman said.

“It would be silly not to develop that way,” he said.