I write as a resident of the Town of Madison who lives close to the boundaries of the proposed Rolling Upland Wind Farm project. Along with dozens of other residents, I am contributing my own time, money, and energy to the effort to help get the word out about the impacts that an industrial wind energy facility of the proposed scale may have for our entire area. Anyone who attends meetings of the Madison Planning Board or the Madison Town Board, or any of the other gatherings around this issue will see how many concerned local residents there are.
Apprehensions about the negative consequences of mega-scale industrial wind installations near residential communities are not based on frivolous “opinion.” There is substantial and growing literature on the impacts that industrial wind facilities have on physical and mental health, property value, and the social fabric of communities. A clear trend in expert literature (by government, scientific, and conservation organizations alike) suggests that big wind projects should not be intermingled with homes. Appropriate siting of renewable production facilities is key to their success, and must, of course, be matched by significant, even radical energy conservation measures in every realm of consumption.
If there is a movement away from aggressive siting of wind projects in residential areas, it comes as a result of community opposition. That opposition is global, sizeable, and strong. It is not a superficial “NIMBY” response as the wind companies assert. Community-based movements emerge as attempts to prevent catastrophic property value loss and quality-of-life destruction due to inappropriate placement of gigantic wind facilities. Neither the wind industry nor its critics dispute the fact that large-scale industrial wind installations change the character and natural resources of an installation area in profound and permanent ways. Energy developers can and do site these industrial projects more carefully, when forced to mitigate impacts and plan with residents’ concerns, community interests, and environmental contexts in mind.
The specific question of industrial wind turbine placement and residential setbacks is absolutely critical for THIS proposed project. If constructed, Rolling Uplands Wind Farm will cover 7000 acres – nearly one third of the entire area of the Town of Madison (as acknowledged by Planning Board chair Roger Williams at the meeting on April 4, 2012) and it will impact an area perhaps twice that size. The project zone encompasses more than one hundred homes, of which only a small number belong to leaseholders. According to the Madison County property tax office, there are 768 property parcels within 5000 feet of the project zone (80 in Brookfield, 146 in Hamilton, and 542 in Madison). There are also many just on the other side of the project boundary in Oneida County. Many of these parcels are agricultural, wooded, wetlands, or not yet developed, but there are many hundreds of homes within a mile of the zone and many hundreds more – including all of those on Lake Moraine – within the likely impact area. The DGEIS completely ignores these residential communities, indeed in both maps and text the DGEIS mischaracterizes the larger impact zone, cutting off maps so as not to include the lake on one side and the major wetlands on the other.
Expert opinion differs on how large the setbacks should be from non-participant properties, but many recent sources suggest that 2000-3000 feet may be the minimum setback (as opposed to the 1000-foot setbacks proposed for RUWF), and some suggest that 5000-foot or even larger setbacks may be necessary to protect peoples’ health and property values. Town, state, and national governments all over the world are setting larger setbacks, in response to the legal challenges, political opposition, and medical complaints of affected residents in rural areas everywhere. The bottom line: turbines should not be sited so close to so many homes.
Area residents should be VERY concerned, as well, to know whether our elected and appointed officials are capable of negotiating in ways that will protect our communities and our properties. Do they have sufficient expertise to guide their communities through industrial and financial processes of monumental technical, legal, and financial complexity? From the limited information I have been able to get from our Town Supervisor and Planning Board Chair, it is not clear that the Town of Madison has the capacity to negotiate well with a big international energy firm that brings every form of expertise to bear on getting a permitting decision and a low PILOT payment. If our properties are going to be altered, and our community permanently changed into an industrial site, there should at least be recompense of an appropriate scale for those who will bear the costs of this. Let us all put get some numbers on the table and get the Town to show that it is taking our property values and our community worries seriously. The Town should negotiate Property Value Guarantees (PVGs) to compensate or buy out owners whose properties are negatively or severely impacted by this process. If the company is unwilling to commit to PVGs, our Town officials should demand to know why.
Elected and appointed officials must take a hard look at the significant and long-term impacts that the proposed industrial wind project may have on our tax base and on future, sustainable economic and social development potential. Area political leaders and school district officials should also be concerned to understand the multiple long-term impacts this project could have for their tax base – as well as the lives of hundreds of their neighbors. It would be appropriate for leaseholders and Town officials not to dismiss the substantive and serious concerns raised by many residents without understanding that we are trying to protect our community from an irreparable harm. If Madison builds this project, it should at least figure out how to compensate the Town and individual non-participating residents for potential damage to individual property and to the whole area in which we live.
Nancy Ries, Hamilton
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