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Number Three Wind developers seeking Lowville wind law waivers

LOWVILLE – Developers of the Number Three Wind project are requesting several waivers from the town of Lowville’s zoning law, and town officials plan to discuss the matter next month.

“Let’s listen to them and let them make their case,” town attorney Raymond A. Meier told councilmen at a recent meeting. “We can talk about whether it’s in the best interest of the town.”

The Town Council has set a public hearing for 10 a.m. Oct. 19 on the proposal and plans to also forward it to the Lewis County Planning Board for its review.

When asked if granting the waiver would be setting a precedent, Mr. Meier said it only would be if another developer were to make a similar request in the future.

Invenergy, based in Chicago, is proposing 35 to 50 turbines in the towns of Lowville and Harrisburg, with a 115-kilovolt substation to tie into the power grid proposed on farmland off Route 812 just northeast of the village of Lowville.

The project area is just north of the 195-turbine Maple Ridge Wind Farm and sandwiched among three other proposed wind projects – Copenhagen Wind Farm, Deer River Wind Farm and Roaring Brook Wind Farm – on the Tug Hill Plateau. Those projects and others in the vicinity of Fort Drum have recently come under increased scrutiny for their expected interference on air traffic control and weather radar systems at the post.

While the state’s Article 10 review process of industrial wind projects is handled by the state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment, “the Siting Board is required to enforce substantive requirements of local laws applicable to wind farms and may only decline to do so under very narrow circumstances,” states a letter to the town from Albany attorney John W. Dax, representing the wind project.

Because of that, Mr. Dax is asking the town for waivers on the following wind law stipulations:

■ A section limiting wind towers to areas of the town that are 1,400 feet above sea level or higher, noting 16 of 20 turbines proposed in Lowville would be between 1,200 and 1,400 feet. That restriction would eliminate 40 percent of the project’s total energy production and “render the Project economically unfeasible,” the letter states.

■ A requirement that transmission facilities be located in AG and OC zones, since portions of the transmission line are also proposed in CB, CB-R, R30-A and I-2 zones.

■ A requirement that building setbacks on towers be 1.5 times their height. The request is that it be waived for structures that are not used as residences, since one turbine is planned to be 650 feet from a hunting camp.

■ A requirement that power transmission lines be “located underground to the maximum extent possible,” with a request that the decision between overhead and underground lines be left to the developer. “Enforcing the requirements of Section 100-11(A) would add significant costs and create unavoidable environmental impacts, including disturbance to wetlands,” the letter states, adding that requiring an underground line for a 4.5-mile stretch between the planned substation and switch yard would add likely $10 million to $15 million to project costs.

■ A prohibition from putting advertising signs on “any part of the wind energy facility,” out of concern that it could technically prohibit a sign on any planned operations and maintenance building off Number Three Road.

■ A requirement that fencing be placed around towers or groups of towers as dictated by safety needs. Invenergy through experience has found fencing is not needed to ensure public safety, and the added expense and additional effort required for crews to access towers and maintain fencing is “not warranted by any incremental security they may offer,” Mr. Dax wrote.