MADISON – Madison County’s wind turbine population could nearly double with the installation of a proposed 36-turbine $110 million wind farm in the Town of Madison, a municipality that’s home to the first-ever commercial wind farm east of the Mississippi River.
Thirty-six turbines already call Madison County home. The Munnsville Wind Farm boasts 23 turbines spread out across Madison and Oneida counties, including nine in Eaton, five in Stockbridge and four in Madison. Seven other turbines are scattered across Madison, installed in 2000 and marked as the first commercial wind farm developed east of the Mississippi River. A year later, 19 were erected in the Town of Fenner.
EDP Renewables North America, the international wind energy company that purchased the Madison Wind Farm in 2005, submitted an application to the Town of Madison in December for the proposed 36-turbine farm called Rolling Upland Wind Farm. EDP is the third-largest wind farm owner and operator in the United States, with 20 wind farms across the country, including a 143-turbine wind farm in Lowville.
According to EDP Project Manager Jeffrey Nemeth, the layout of the proposed wind farm will cordon off more than 7,000 acres of space in the southeast corner of Madison for 36 GE-100 turbines, but the actual “footprint” of the turbines and access roads will only take up about 175 acres of space. While construction of the project is slated to begin in 2015, Nemeth said the company has already procured lease agreements with local residents for about half the space needed for the wind farm.
The 492 feet tall (from the base of the turbine to the tip of the blade) turbines are required by the town’s legislation to be at about 1,000 feet – or twice the machine’s height – away from any structure. Installation of the wind farm is expected to take between six months and a year to complete and is projected to create 300 temporary construction jobs. At least 60 percent of those jobs are anticipated to be hired locally, according to Nemeth. Another eight long-term full-time jobs will also be established for technicians and a manager to oversee its operation. While those jobs require specific background, training and experience, Nemeth said those openings will also be sourced locally if possible.
Five key factors led EDP to turn to the Town of Madison for its newest project. Its geography lends an aptitude for strong winds and other wind farms already exists in its immediate vicinity. That factor also means there’s a transmission line that has the potential capacity to insert the power that’s expected to be produced and, in general, the community is accepting and supportive of wind energy development.
The area’s predominately agricultural and rural setting also “lends itself well to wind farm development,” Nemeth said. Potential for energy sales also made New York a prime location for EDP. Because the state requires a certain percentage of its electricity to be derived from renewable energy, the Madison wind farm would help meet those standards.
In exchange for its land use, EDP will make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the town and school.
Since 2000, when the original wind farm was constructed, the town has received a $30,000 annual PILOT payment. Town Supervisor Ron Bono said that money has been put into a special account and used for things like a salt and sand storage facility that it bought outright last year. The school receives matching funds.
The new project will add another $25,000 a year each for the school and town. In the context of the town’s $1 million budget, those payments will save the average taxpayer about 25 percent of their tax responsibility, Bono said.
EDP and town officials have been in discussions over the possibility of the project for about a year. Since the company filed an application with the town in December, the town’s planning board has undertaken the required State Environmental Quality Review process. Planning Board Chairman Roger Williams explained that from Part 1 of the SEQR that EDP filled out, the town completed Part 2 and 3. As it studied the potential environmental impacts of the project, it declared a positive declaration, meaning the project will have a significant environmental impact, so a full environmental review will be conducted.
The planning board is in the early stages of the review, Williams said. The subsequent studies will examine things like the project’s repercussions on wildlife and wetlands, disturbances to property and roads and interference with cell tower signals, cable signals and airplanes.
The environmental review will identify potential concerns and ways to mitigate them. If those concerns can’t be corrected, the plans for the project have to be altered or shut down all together. While the town plays a substantial role in determining the approval or denial of the project, the Department of Environmental Conservation has a similarly important part with the issuance of approval and needed permits. If the DEC condemns the project at any time, the town must follow suit, Williams said.
“This is not an overnight project,” he said. “It can take a considerable amount of time, which is a good thing really.”
While the town’s planning board has held one informal meeting about the project, a string of required public hearings will be held to gather residents’ input. Those meetings can’t be held until the board releases the environmental impact statement, he said. Residents’ comments will be considered and will impact the board’s decision but Williams said that as long as EDP meets the necessary requirements, there isn’t much the town can legally do to deny the project.
Bono recognized that residents may have concerns about the potential for nearby turbines to reduce property values and change residents’ quality of life by infiltrating their homes with light and noise and altering the picturesque view they’ve grown accustomed to.
Opposition from residents over the new project has come at somewhat of a surprise to town officials because of the ease other area wind projects were accepted, Bono said. Both were confident that the proper precautions and procedures will be taken to ensure that the most minimal impacts are made to residents and the environment.
McCormick Road Jane Welsh, whose property is encompassed in the vicinity of the project, called the absence of public notification on the project a major failure on the part of the town’s elected officials. She contends that officials kept the “construction of an enormous industrial wind farm in a populated area” quiet until the project was “majority underway.”
“The secrecy that has been the methodology so far doesn’t engender a lot of trust,” she said. “There should’ve been public input at the very get-go when the project was in its early stages.”
While she supports the development of wind farms in unpopulated areas in general, she said doesn’t understand what benefit the town stands to win that would outweigh the preservation of an area that draws people from around the country. She also questioned the thoroughness and accuracy in which EDP has completed necessary applications and documentation for the project.
Unsure that anything can remedy the concerns she and other residents have about the concerns, Welsh said she plans to meet with Senator David Valesky and Assemblyman Bill Magee about the issues with the project.
Nemeth recognized the public’s role in providing feedback about the project as “very important.” Once the necessary studies are complete their results, along with the full details of the plan will be made public for residents’ review.
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