NORTH EAST – A proposed ordinance regulating the placement of giant wind turbines is generating a new round of debate in North East Township, where a Texas-based development company plans to build the region’s first commercial wind farm.
Township supervisors recently revised the ordinance to increase minimum setbacks between turbines and neighboring property lines.
But the ordinance doesn’t go far enough to protect neighbors from shadows, noise and even physical harm, said Matt Putman, of Neighbors for a Responsible North East. The group is pushing for still-tighter reins on turbine placement.
“As this ordinance is written, the turbines will be a public safety risk,” Putman said. “Ice could be thrown from a blade onto a road or onto someone’s property where they might be out for a casual walk.”
The turbines, which are expected to be about 450 feet high, will also cause unwanted noise and shadows, Putman said. Neighbors additionally worry about deflated property values.
“We’re being told that a 50-story structure somehow is not going to be obtrusive and is not going to affect property values,” Jon Peters said. Peters and his wife own a home and 10 acres near Interstate 90 in North East. “The reality is that they’re putting these things in neighborhoods, not in agricultural districts, and they’re going to affect our homes.”
The township ordinance would confine commercial wind farms to the southern part of the township, in an area roughly bounded by Interstate 90, Williams Road and the New York state line, excepting the Route 89 corridor.
The ordinance would require turbines to be set back from neighboring homes by a distance equal to five times the turbine’s hub height, or its height not counting its blades. A 275-foot turbine could not be built within 1,375 feet of a home.
The setback between turbines and neighboring property lines was increased earlier this month from 1.1 to 1.75 times the turbine’s total height, including the highest point of its blades. By the new formula, a 450-foot turbine could not be built within 787.5 feet of a neighboring property.
The earlier formula would have allowed construction within 495 feet.
The ordinance adequately protects nearby homes and property values, said developer Johnny Walker, of Pioneer Green Energy. The company, based in Austin, Texas, plans to build eight to 12 commercial wind turbines in North East Township. Construction could begin later this year, Walker said.
“In Somerset, where they have in the neighborhood of 20 wind projects on the ground, they’ve had an uptick in tourism and have never seen property devalue or trickle down at all,” Walker said.
Pioneer Green Energy originally planned to build a much larger wind farm locally but scaled the project back because of uncertainty about federal subsidies for wind energy development, Walker said.