Black Oak Will Farm will likely not build a turbine within Newfield Town Lines. According to a Black Oak spokesperson, increased minimum setbacks in the town’s proposed revisions to its local wind law would require the wind farm to get easements from many more land owners than it would have needed under the current law, making development in Newfield too difficult.
The majority of Black Oak’s seven wind turbines are slated to be built in Enfield, but at a meeting of the Enfield Town Council March 9 the Enfield board accepted a revised Black Oak proposal that includes one potential site within the town of Newfield on Cayutaville Road. In response, on April 14 Newfield put a 90-day moratorium on any wind development within the town while they reviewed their local wind energy laws.
On July 14, exactly three months later, the board will hold a public hearing on the law and will likely vote on the changes.
The most substantial suggested change made to the existing law is an increase in the permitted minimum setbacks. The current law states that there must be at least 750 feet or 1.5 times the total height of the turbine, whichever is greater, from the turbine to edge of the closest occupied structure. There must be 750 feet or 1.5 times the blade radius, whichever is greater, between the turbine and the property lines of adjacent property owners.
In the newly proposed law, the setback is increased to 1,760 feet or three times the blade radius, whichever is greater, from adjacent property lines, unless each neighboring landowner within 1,760 feet consents to a written lease, easement or other agreement. According to Newfield Town Board members, their main motivation for changing the language was to protect adjacent property owners who may want to build a new structure on their land, which is why they did not make a distinction between “property lines” and “occupied structures.”
“We wanted to make sure that if someone wanted to build on their land they would be protected from a turbine being too close,” said Joanne James, Newfield Town Board member. She added that the board felt it was appropriate to increase setbacks given that the average commercial wind turbine has increased in size since the original local law was adopted in 2009.
Though Newfield Town Board members say that the changes to the law are not specifically directed at Black Oak Wind Farm, Marguerite Wells, project manager for Black Oak, says the changes will make it impossible for the wind farm to erect a turbine in Newfield. Seven-hundred and fifty feet was a “workable distance,” she said, but 1,760 feet is a different story.
“It makes it unbuildable,” Wells said. “It’s a common way to outlaw wind farms in a town, to make the setback impossible.”
According to Wells, the increased setback requirements will likely prevent any other future wind farms in Newfield as well. “It totally and entirely prevents all windmills in the town of Newfield,” she said.
“They never asked my opinion,” she added. “I went to a couple meetings, and a couple people from my board did as well, and they didn’t seem interested in our input.” Wells said the inability to put a turbine within Newfield Town lines will not derail the wind farm’s plans to build in Enfield. “We can do without the turbine,” she said.
The relationship between Black Oak and the Newfield Town Board was further soured when board members voted against allowing Black Oak access to one of its Enfield sites through a driveway located in Newfield during the three-month moratorium.
“I felt not welcome in the town of Newfield,” Wells said. “When I asked the Town of Newfield to just have [the moratorium] apply to turbines and not driveways, they said they would consider it but did not actually choose to go that way. They expressly chose to have it apply to driveways.”
James, who voted to let Black Oak use the driveway, said that following the decision the board promised the wind energy company that they would expedite the process so they could lift the moratorium as soon as possible.
Jeff Hart, Newfield Town Supervisor, said that the town board arrived at the new setback restrictions after reviewing studies and the wind laws of other towns. The board tried to compromise with a setback that would protect residents without being unnecessarily prohibitive to wind development, he said.
“Our primary concern was aesthetics,” Hart said, adding that board members individually measured out different distances to see how far they really appeared from certain landmarks and agreed that 1,760 feet was reasonable.
“None of us are against wind or any of the alternative energy sources,” Hart said. “We’re trying to make something that respects the neighbors of the property.”
Increasing the setbacks allowed the board to make minimal changes to the rest of the local law. “Setbacks were the primary component,” Hart said. “If we make them large enough, it takes away a lot of other concerns we are trying to mitigate, such as flicker and noise. It will lessen those other two factors we were looking at.”
The public hearing regarding the wind law will take place Thursday, July 14, at 7 p.m. at Newfield Town Hall, 166 Main Street, Newfield.
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