Town of Freedom: Wind law update reviewed; Many residents in attendance feel board’s changes are too rigid
The meeting room was full at the Freedom Town Hall where, on Dec. 4, residents gathered for a public hearing on the subject of wind turbines in Freedom, as part of a larger wind farm to include adjoining communities.
Prior to the meeting, the Freedom Planning Board submitted a Letter to the Editor in the Arcade Herald asking people to attend, stating that Supervisor James Whitacre is attempting to push through a law to make windmill energy in Freedom impossible, and stating that jobs and income for the town are at stake.
“… There will be a permanent loss of income to the Town of Freedom and Cattaraugus County of more than $400,000 per year. More than $11,000 per windmill, per year, would go to Pioneer School taxes. We all share in this income.”
An hour before the 7 p.m. meeting, planning board members and representatives of Invenergy LLC were present at the town hall. Supervisor-elect Randy Lester, also a member of the planning board, passed out copies of the planning board’s proposal for a local law titled “Wind Energy Facilities.”
This law is based on the existing 2007 law. Lester invited people to ask questions of the planning board and Invenergy reps about wind energy in the town. When asked how many actual wind turbines could potentially be erected just in the Town of Freedom, Eric Miller, Director of Business Development with Invenergy said, “We are evaluating 35 potential wind turbine sites in the Town of Freedom. We estimate that the total generating capacity in the town of Freedom.”
The proposed Alle-Catt Wind Farm project would involve development on roughly 20,000 acres of private land that Invenergy is leasing in the towns of Freedom, Farmersville, Centerville, Rushford and Arcade.
According to information found at allecattwind.invenergyllc.com, the website referred to by Miller, the wind farm, comprised of up to 120 wind turbines (535-595 feet in height), would generate 380 megawatts, which would be enough to power 148,000 homes, with a cost estimate of between $500- and $600 million.
While there was some conversation during the hour before the regular informational meeting, discussion did not start in earnest until after Councilman John Hill, who had drafted changes to the same 2007 wind energy law that the planning board had, read his changes aloud. Among his updates to the law, Hill decreased the “sound pressure level” to 40dB from 45. In the law, the paragraph notes that the level can be equaled or exceeded “only 10 percent of the time, or for six minutes.” Another change, which drew much criticism, was the increase of setback measurement (the term setback was changed to Radius of Influence in Hill’s copy as a more concise term) to 5,280 feet (one mile) from the nearest non-participating resident’s property line. In the planning board’s law, the setback measurement is noted as 1,200 feet from the nearest residence.
When Hill finished his review, Mary Zink asked how big the Town of Freedom is, and was told roughly six miles by six miles. Zink said that, with a setback measurement of a mile, there would not be many places where a wind turbine could be erected. Zink also asked if the decibel-level decrease would have to apply to other businesses in town, to which Hill replied that any business will have to conform to the town’s noise law.
Jim Shannon, a member of the planning board, spoke next. “Who asked you to run this through and take money from our community?”
“We asked you [for input],” said Supervisor Whitacre, who said there was zero input from the planning board.
Said Councilman Hill, “We asked the planning board in October to come up with recommendations to modify the law and we’ve heard nothing.”
According to Shannon, there is nothing on the minutes to indicate what Hill had said.
“There is a lot that’s not included on the minutes [that should be],” Whitacre said.
Resident Charlie Vince then took the board members to task, stating that he felt embarrassed for them.
“So no one here had a chance to read [the revised law],” he said, adding that everyone, including the taxpayers present, should have been provided copies. And the board members, he stressed, should have been completely familiar with the law before the meeting.
“You’re not being transparent,” added Vince.
“This is a hearing,” said Supervisor Whitacre, adding that copies of the law are available to anyone.
Resident Dave Reinhardt asked the board who has to pay attorney fees for this law, then said “You tried to sneak this through last time. Why don’t you just say you don’t want it?”
After Reinhart spoke, Whitacre made a comment about “small minds,” to which Reinhardt responded with a comment about Whitacre’s work ethic.
“That’s right; you were a school teacher and never worked a day in your life.”
Most residents at the meeting appeared to be in favor of learning more about what wind energy could do for the Town of Freedom.
Joe Pawlowski said he’d done some research and found that wind energy is the cleanest energy available.
“We take electricity for granted,” he said, adding that electricity is actually a luxury and that it would be a good idea to look into this alternative energy, particularly in view of the growing U.S. population.
Dustin Bliss, who owns a farm on Maple Grove Road, said he would like to give the town board “the benefit of the doubt.”
“I think that 5,280 feet is a little stiff, and I don’t think that any data would say something could be thrown 5,000 feet [in reference to ice-throw off a turbine blade], but I’d like to believe the town board would take safety into consideration, and protect property.” Bliss said he hopes the board does not allow “one or two sticks in the mud” to prevent the possibility of a wind farm.
With regard to ice throw, according to Eric Miller, the bigger the turbine, the slower the RPMs, which means ice throw is not a critical concern.
Scotch Road resident Rick Lange addressed the board. He began by noting that he had heard that the town stands to receive $50 million over 40 years, but had then heard during the planning board’s portion of the meeting that it was $24 million.
He said the landowners who would be getting the windmills usually own a lot of land and are generally well off; adding he does not begrudge anyone the financial benefits of having a windmill on their land
“My question is, what’s the benefit to those of us who can’t have a windmill?
“I’m all for new equipment in the highway barns, [improvement of] parks, roads and schools, but what’s in it for us? Can anyone tell me what percentage our taxes will go down?”
According to attorney Daniel Spitzer of Hodgson Russ, it’s up to the board how much tax relief residents could see. He said that, typically, town boards in New York State use the income from wind farms to reduce the tax load for residents, as well as fire district taxes.
Councilman Ann Marie Dixon added that sometimes services are offered.
Said Miller, “We would propose to enter into a Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) agreement with the county Industrial Development Agency (IDA). Under the PILOT agreement, we would pay $5,000 per MW per year. The funds that are paid under the PILOT agreement are normally divided amongst the school district, county, and town based on prevailing tax rates. In addition to the PILOT agreement, we are also proposing to enter into a Host Community Agreement with the town that would pay $3,000 per MW per year. This would be paid directly to the town.”
Resident Sandra Franklin asked about local employment. “You’re speaking of jobs; will you hire local people or bring in your own?”
Miller said the company will hire as many local people as it can, and that the larger construction companies often sub-contract with local companies.
Before the meeting drew to an end, Councilman Ronald Ashworth addressed the audience.
“I was here when we tried to get windmills before, and I don’t want this opportunity to go away. I have two different copies of this law; we have no clues because we just got them.
“There was a statement made tonight that the members of the planning board were not doing anything,” Ashworth continued. “That’s wrong. This should go to the planning board. I am for windmills. Ask other communities [that have windmills], you’ll be impressed. I’m sure there’ll be some naysayers.”
“What’s the next step?” asked Charlie Vince.
According to Councilman Ashworth, the law will be referred over to the planning board, and there will most likely be another public hearing after the first of the year.
“If this goes through, what would be the timeline before we’d see any benefit,” asked Pawlowski.
According to Miller, between two and three years.
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