PRINCESS ANNE – Greater setback requirements were called “key” to offsetting potential problems from wind turbines as Somerset County Commissioners heard from residents on both sides of the issue during a work session.
Most problems reported in other parts of the country occurred in places where turbines were placed too close to neighboring residences, said attorney Steve Smethurst, who represents a group of Marion Station residents who live near farmland that is under contract with a wind energy developer.
Many are concerned about health problems that have been reported from around the country.
“These things affect different people in different ways,” Smethurst said.
A set of proposed requirements for commercial wind energy systems in the county originally had a 750-foot setback from the base of a turbine to the foundation of a nearby house.
Following opposition to the measure, County Commissioners proposed changing it to 1,000 feet.
But Smethurst said that wasn’t enough space, and proposed the setback be equal to 10 times the height of the turbine, which will likely be a minimum of 400 feet tall.
In some places, the setbacks for turbines are between a half mile to three miles. “But we’re not suggesting that for here,” he said.
The distance also should be measured to a neighbor’s property line rather than to the foundation of a house, and variances should only be granted with written permission from the adjoining property owner, he said.
There also is no information on how a wind farm might affect poultry, Smethurst said, adding that he called Delmarva Poultry Industry to find out.
“They had not the slightest clue,” he said.
Although Somerset County Commissioners visited Sheldon, N.Y., and talked to residents there, Smethurst said many of them have signed agreements not to talk about any problems with a wind farm there.
Called “good neighbor agreements,” they are really gag orders, he said.
But Adam Cohen of Pioneer Green, which has signed wind energy agreements with land owners in the county, said none of them have been asked to sign anything like that.
“I’ve never heard of these gag orders,” he said, and agreed to give the commissioners a copy of the contact his company uses.
The studies cited by Smethurst and the Marion residents are not independent or peer-reviewed, and one website they quoted was aimed at killing a specific wind project, Cohen said.
The setback suggested by Smethurst was excessive, and Cohen said it was designed “to zone us out.”
Even changing it to 1,250 feet – the setback required by the state of Wisconsin – “will make it difficult,” he said.
Allowing wind turbines to be built on farmland will help farmers keep their land and also provide the county with as much as $3.2 million a year in additional tax revenue that can be used to pay for roads and schools.
“This will benefit everybody,” he said.