Catlin officials are moving toward a ban on commercial wind turbines in the town, where Florida-based NextEra Energy plans to locate many of the turbines for its proposed $200 million wind farm.
Catlin officials had been close to enacting new regulations limiting where the turbines – which would be 430 feet tall – could be located.
However, the town is now moving toward an outright ban instead, said Catlin Town Supervisor Laverne Phelps.
There are two primary reasons the town is considering a ban, Phelps said.
Catlin residents have been overwhelmingly against the NextEra project. Also, Catlin officials became concerned that the state could override the regulations the town put in place, Phelps added.
After NextEra introduced the project in 2012, Catlin put a moratorium on industrial turbines in place and began updating its regulations.
The town board was considering new rules with a setback of 1,700 feet from the property line of a landowner without a wind lease.
That’s more than the industry standard, which is 1,400 feet from the residence of a property owner without a lease, and it would have reduced the number of wind turbines that NextEra could locate in Catlin from the proposed 30 or 35 down to about a dozen, Phelps said.
The state has a new review and permitting process, put in place by the 2011 Power New York Act, that governs the siting of large wind farms and other electric-generating facilities, such as power plants. It’s Article X (ten) of the state’s Public Service Law.
Under Article X, projects go to a seven-member state panel for review.
The panel includes the heads of the state’s Public Service Commission, Energy Research and Development Authority, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and Empire State Development Corp.
For each individual project, two representatives from the local community are appointed to the panel by the state Legislature.
Even though New York is a “home rule” state where local municipalities have control over zoning, Article X gives the state panel the right to override local regulations deemed “unreasonably burdensome” to developers such as NextEra Energy.
That’s what has Catlin officials worried, Phelps said.
“The ban has to do with the town losing home rule and losing control of the project, to the point where something may happen which the town would have to live with, while the folks in Albany don’t,” Phelps said.
Rather than risk having its regulations on wind turbines overruled by the state panel, Catlin officials decided to go with an outright ban, he added.
The “unreasonable burden” clause hasn’t been fully tested for local wind farm regulations in New York, and Phelps doesn’t want Catlin to become a test case.
John Mustico, Catlin’s town attorney, has prepared a draft of the law banning wind turbines and given it to Phelps and Jim Plate, the town’s planning board chairman.
The Catlin Town Board will review the draft at its next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Dec. 11., and possibly refer it to the planning board. There would be public comment before the town board votes on the ban, Phelps said.
Ryan Pumford, project manager for NextEra Energy, said he was surprised by Catlin’s consideration of a ban.
It was his understanding that a ban on wind turbines could also be considered “unreasonably burdensome” for NextEra, and that the state board might allow NextEra’s project to go forward anyway, without local rules in place.
He also pointed out that the NextEra project could bring “huge benefits” to Catlin in terms of tax revenues to Catlin, as well as signing bonuses and annual payments to the 30 landowners who have already signed leases.
It would also feed clean energy into the grid and the electricity would be used in upstate New York, he added.
Pumford said he wasn’t sure how a ban in Catlin – if passed – would affect NextEra’s plans. NextEra could either challenge the ban with the state board, find new locations for the turbines in the area, or drop the project.
“From our perspective as a company, we’ve had the success we’ve had by being good community stewards,” Pumford said. “We’d take it into strong consideration when we site our project. It’s tough to want to be somewhere that doesn’t want us.”
At a recent Catlin Town Board meeting, the board was presented with a petition signed by 267 residents calling for the board to postpone adopting the new regulations and ending the moratorium.
“We were never against or for wind in general but we needed more information about the impact wind industrialization would have on health, property values, ecology and tourism,” said Catlin resident Joseph Calderone in an email to The Leader.
Residents at past Catlin meetings have raised concerns about how the 400-foot-tall turbines would affect views and property values, and the noise they might generate in a quiet rural area.
There were also concerns about clearing of land for the turbines and access roads; the turbines killing birds and bats; and “shadow flicker,” a strobe-like effect created by the spinning turbines which studies have linked to health issues.
Along with the 30 to 35 turbines in Catlin – located in the northwest corner of Chemung County – there are also about 15 turbines planned in the neighboring Town of Dix in Schuyler County, including some at Watkins Glen International.
The project was centered around an agreement between NextEra and WGI, announced in May 2012. At the time, WGI President Michael Printup said the turbines would be seen by millions of viewers during televised races, and NextEra officials said they would have an advertising presence at the track.
There has been no resistance to NextEra’s plans so far in Dix, Pumford said.
A wild card, Pumford said, is that the whole project may hinge on whether Congress revives production tax credits for wind power. Supporters hope the tax credits – which have expired – will be renewed before the current session ends in December and Republicans take control of the Senate next year.
NextEra – a Fortune 500 company with $15 billion in annual revenues – is the largest provider of wind and solar in North America, according to a company fact sheet.
It has 100 wind farms across the U.S. and Canada, with the closest in Wayne County, Pa., near Scranton. The company also has nuclear power plants, as well as power plants fueled by natural gas and oil.
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