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Catlin drops plans for wind farm ban

After considering an outright ban on commercial wind turbines, officials in the Town of Catlin are instead going back to work on a local law regulating them.

Florida-based NextEra Energy had planned to locate many of the turbines for a proposed $200 million wind farm in Catlin. The project was centered around an agreement between NextEra and Watkins Glen International to have turbines around the racetrack, located in the neighboring Town of Dix.

After NextEra introduced the project in 2012, Catlin put a moratorium on industrial turbines in place and began working on regulations. In November 2013, saying residents were overwhelmingly opposed to wind turbines, Catlin officials decided to move toward an outright ban.

But after getting more information and consulting with staff at the Southern Tier Regional Planning and Economic Development Board, the town board reconsidered, according to Town Supervisor Laverne Phelps.

The concern was that a ban or moratorium, if challenged by NextEra, could be overridden by a state panel that governs the siting of large wind farms and other electric-generating facilities.

If that happened, the town wouldn’t have its own regulations in place, Phelps said. In that case the setbacks – the minimum distance from homes – might not be enough for residents, for example.

“We didn’t want to give up local control,” Phelps said.

So now a town committee is working on the regulations, with input from a citizens’ group concerned about the impact of wind farms. Concerns have been raised about the 400-foot-tall turbines affecting property values and posing health and environmental problems.

When it’s ready, the planning board will review the local law, and the town board will hold a public hearing before voting. Phelps doesn’t expect much to happen in January.

NextEra Energy is waiting to see what happens in Catlin and isn’t yet sure how its wind project might be affected, Ryan Pumford, project manager for NextEra, recently told The Leader. Pumford said the project also may hinge on the status of federal tax credits for wind energy, which is currently uncertain.