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Cape Vincent turbine incident prompts conditional OK for Dexter wind regulations

WATERTOWN, N.Y.  – The village of Dexter may soon begin regulating non-commercial and home wind turbines following a conditional approval from the Jefferson County Planning Board after questions were raised about its proposed setback requirements.

E. Hartley Bonisteel, community development coordinator for the Jefferson County Planning Department, told Planning Board members Tuesday the village’s development standards suggest the setback for turbines should be one and a half times the total height of the turbine.

Planning Board member Clifford J. Schneider said the village’s proposed turbine setback may need to be adjusted after an incident last month in Cape Vincent in which blades of a private turbine allegedly spun “300 miles an hour or so plus,” beyond its normal requirements.

“That was a very dangerous situation,” Schneider said. “What you had was you had something that was very close to a person’s house that was spinning out of control.”

The Cape Vincent resident further explained, “They had a break on the machine that the guy let go of and then when it took off, apparently the wind turbine was not under load.”

Schneider said turbine blades can indefinitely spin unless the device has an electrical “load” to regulates the speed.

“Our guess is it wasn’t under control, it didn’t have a load on it, it was free spinning and under those circumstances that whole thing could come apart and you could have pieces going everywhere,” Schneider said. “I’ll tell you right now if you have something that’s spinning at 300 miles an hour or so plus, which is what that was spinning out in Cape Vincent, that if it came apart, the parts are going to go a lot further than one and a half times beyond the property line.”

Under the additional requirements, according to Bonisteel, the village’s proposal for turbine regulation would prohibit noise from exceeding five decibels above an ambient level, electrical lines must be installed underground and blades must be “non obtrusive and non reflective to minimize visual impact.”

Bonisteel added that a noise analysis would first have to be conducted to define an ambient level and external lighting on turbines would not be allowed, except for what is determined by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The motion to approve the village’s proposal with comments from the Planning Board passed with 8 members in agreement, one abstention and one not in favor.