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Tompkins welcomes renewable energy projects, with some reservations

While most can easily recognize the positive results of creating a solar farm, wind turbines, and biomass and geothermal plants – potentially less expensive energy that has minimal or no effect on climate – there are also several concerns that need to be addressed to minimize potential harm and mitigate the projects from becoming a nuisance.

“We have poor sound regulations,” said Enfield Councilwoman Beth McGee during a Tompkins County Planning and Sustainability public meeting Wednesday. “Use us as a cautionary tale. You want regulations in your town before projects are proposed.”

An overwhelming majority of Tompkins County residents view renewable energy favorably, as demonstrated by the support residents share in public meetings. Regardless, projects are often met with intense scrutiny before municipalities agree to proposals by developers.

In mid-March, about 100 county residents attended a Dryden Town Board meeting to argue against two solar projects proposed. While residents were strong proponents of clean energy, they expressed reservations about the project’s aesthetic appeal and affect on wildlife.

To address issues that come up with planning such projects, Joan Jurkowich, planning administrator of the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability, led a discussion and made suggestions to municipal leaders and residents on Wednesday at the Tompkins County Public Library.

Many of the recommendations, such as the allowable height of projects have remained unchanged since 2009. Among the more recently added suggestions is protection of prime agricultural land that are now hosting solar projects, Jurkowich said.

“Avoid prime agricultural soils,” Jurkowich said. “Require maintenance of a natural vegetative cover or use for agricultural purposes. In some cases, require a soil reclamation plan.”

The county also suggests municipalities prohibit panels in floodplains and wetlands, Jurkowich said.

While some municipalities may adopt certain recommendations and disregard others, there was strong support for renewable energy at the meeting.

“There’s no preserving the rural character of our county if we don’t act now and we don’t act fast,” said Peter Bardaglio, president of Black Oak Wind Farm and founder of the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative.

[NWW editor’s note: this article contained much more cautionary language in the original version, which was apparently “scrubbed” for some reason. This is the redacted version.]