Philipstown Town Board members Wednesday night refined their ideas for a likely town law on use of backyard, energy-producing wind turbines, suggesting that the devices be no taller than 40 feet and that mountain ridgelines and scenic viewsheds be protected.
The board discussed the issue at a July 23 workshop at Town Hall. Last November, after a protracted public debate before both the town Planning Board and Town Board about a Garrison resident’s wind turbine (eventually approved), the Town Board adopted a moratorium on such projects until the Philipstown zoning code, revised in 2011, could be further updated to address the mechanisms. In June, the Town Board extended the temporary ban for another three months. A wind turbine is a kind of modern windmill to generate electricity; large, towering commercial versions can fill swaths of countryside but a small-scale turbine can serve a single house.
On Wednesday, Councilor Mike Leonard, who leads the Town Board’s effort, reported on legislation adopted elsewhere, notably, by the Town of Clermont, further north in the Hudson Valley, whose zoning regulations on small wind energy conversion systems (WECS) cover seven pages.
He noted the thoroughness of Claremont’s law and the board informally decided to use it as a model. Among numerous other provisions, Clermont’s law calls for minimizing the sight of turbines from public roads or trails and for creating turbine energy only for an individual home (as opposed to producing power to sell back to a utility company or other buyer).
Leonard proposed tight measures to shield a turbine from public view. “The 800-pound gorilla is the visibility,” he said. “I think we should require screening as much as possible.”
Supervisor Richard Shea pointed to the likely conflict between the needs to locate turbines in places high enough to draw winds and protection of ridgelines and scenery. “I just don’t see how we’re going to reconcile the two,” he said. However, he continued, if the turbines do not exceed 40 feet in height and meet other criteria, “it’s possible” they could work.
Councilor Dave Merandy recommended turbines be prohibited in the town’s zoning Scenic Protection Overlay district and on steep slopes – and Shea added that construction of turbines, including accessory roads, could be as disruptive in steep-slope areas as building a house would be. “I couldn’t see putting it on a 25 percent grade,” for example, Shea said. He also suggested that turbines could be limited to lots five acres or larger.
Similarly, “I wouldn’t want to see one right next to my house,” so maybe clear setbacks – specified distances from property lines – should be set, Merandy added.
Factoring in all the concerns associated with turbine installation, “I don’t see how you’re going to be able to put one up here” in Philipstown, Councilor Nancy Montgomery observed.
However, the board plunged ahead and, in time, came up with a set of tentative provisions to include in a wind-turbine law, including the 40-foot height limit, suitable setbacks and acreage requirements, fees to apply should a turbine be abandoned and the town government have to remove it, prohibitions on sale of backyard-turbine-created energy to others, and a demand for a fence around a turbine – “not a bad idea for child safety and all,” as Leonard put it.
From the audience, Planning Board Member Mary Ellen Finger proposed that the board also deal with solar energy and seek a NYSERDA grant to underwrite the zoning updating, although the application would be due at the end of September. Leonard agreed to look into the possibility.
As the discussion wound down, Shea said the board would put together notes and details and consult its zoning and/or legal advisors on various aspects of a law. “Then we’ll get something on the books before the moratorium runs out, or at least have the process” well underway, he said.