Penn Forest Township supervisors continue to feel the heat from residents clamoring for a change in the municipality’s zoning ordinance on the heels of two proposals by Atlantic Wind, a subsidiary of Avangrid Renewables, Bethlehem Water Authority property, one for 37 turbines, and another for 28.
Hearings continue on the matter, with the latest scheduled for Tuesday night.
Township solicitor Thomas Nanovic said the supervisors are committed to making a change to the ordinance, and that a consultant, Charlie Schmehl has been retained to revise the ordinance.
The local municipality, however, is far from the only place where proposed wind farms are sending town planners and opposition groups scrambling to find ways to keep wind farm companies out.
Mad River Wind Farm
Several towns and groups of residents in northern New York have been fighting the proposed 350 megawatt Mad River Wind Farm proposal by Atlantic Wind since late 2016.
The plan calls for 88 utility-scale wind turbines on leased private property from timber production company WoodWise.
In its preliminary scoping statement for the project, Avangrid said it will “offer a wide variety of benefits including economic development and job creation for the host communities, cleaner air, improved energy infrastructure, and progress toward achievement of clean energy goals.”
Local municipalities, however, quickly responded, telling the New York Department of Public Service the project would threaten the environment, economy, national security and health of area residents.
Melody Westfall, attorney for the town of Redfield in Oswego County, noted that the project is proposed to be built on protected wetlands and could threaten water supply.
“The town has good reason to be concerned,” Westfall said in response to the scoping statement.
“Construction of a recent wind development in Ontario, Canada, that is similarly situated on an aquifer is believed to have caused contamination of residents’ drinking water wells. Residents reported a rapid spread of well contamination around the project site during construction.”
Impact on tourism?
Numerous opposition groups have popped up in New York, and Lauren Brown, a member of one of them, said a tourism-driven area like Oswego County won’t benefit from the look of a wind farm.
Officials estimate tourism in the area brings in $40 million per year to the local economy.
“Even when you don’t factor in the environmental concerns, they just don’t fit in here,” said Brown. “Some people have said they can be up to 700 feet tall. Wind farms have been known to decrease property values and I’d just hate to see that happen here. There are so many things we’re worried about.”
In its Mad River application, Avangrid contended that “the weight of evidence indicates that properly sited wind turbines do not cause adverse health effects.”
“The dangers of infrasound have been document since the 1970s,” Westfall said. “An industrial wind turbine is essentially a large fan that produces pulsations every time a blade passes the tower. The infrasound from large fans, such as those in industrial heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, were shown in the 1970s through the 1990s to lead to worker stress, mental fatigue, lack of concentration, headaches, reduced performance, work dissatisfaction, and lowered work productivity.”
While citizen groups, and even local municipalities, can identify countless concerns with the proposed project, often hands are tied when it comes to keeping wind turbines out.
Earlier this month, Oswego County officials said they would not give Avangrid a property tax break for the wind farm.
An article in the Watertown Daily Times quotes County Administrator Philip R. Church as saying, “It is out of the concern for fairness for the rest of the county taxpayers. We understand that there are a variety of concerns to the impacts of the region up there.”
Neighboring Jefferson County also requires full taxation.
“I certainly hope this influences them to back out,” Brown said. “Let’s face it, if the money isn’t in it for them, they won’t be here.”
In 2012, the company stopped plans for over 60 turbines in western Pennsylvania over uncertainty on the extension of federal tax credits. The Production Tax Credit was eventually renewed multiple times and currently expires at the end of 2019.
In Carbon County, Atlantic Wind will pay taxes to the county and the school district, but Penn Forest Township does not assess a property tax.
Town develops wind law
Another New York town recently passed a wind law that Avangrid officials say effectively” blocked them out.”
The law, written by the Hopkinton Wind Advisory Board, came in response to word of a 27-turbine project proposal.
It would require wind turbines to stay 2,500 feet away from a neighbor’s property line, public roads, farm or commercial structures, any aboveground utilities, and registered historical sites.
A noise component also calls for a maximum 40 dBA at the nearest nonparticipating property line, school, hospital, place of worship or building existing at the time of the application.
Avangrid spokesman Paul Copleman called the move “disheartening.” The company, officials added, had made great strides to show its commitment to economic advancement in the community.
“We’re committed to paying an estimated $750,000 in annual payments over 30 years for a 100 megawatt project to the town, county and school district,” said Scott L. McDonald, Avangrid senior business developer. “These payments will increase each year. We’re extending offers of direct annual payments totaling $67,000 over 30 years to landowners with permanent residences located within 3,000 feet of a turbine location. We’re also introducing an electric bill offset program for town residents that would pay 75 percent of their annual residential electric bills for 30 years after the commercial operation date, up to $1,200 per year.”
Troy Bartlett, member of a concerned citizen group in Hopkinton, said residents are still on guard as the project may not be dead in the water.
“From what I understand, the town is still having discussions that could turn this thing around,” said Bartlett. “Hopefully that isn’t the case. A lot of people made it clear they don’t want these around.”
Penn Forest applications
Atlantic Wind has two permits pending for the project. The first is for up to 37 turbines, which was deemed approved after the hearing board missed a crucial date in rescheduling a public hearing. That permit is tied up in the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas. No action is expected before the end of this year.
The second application is for 28 larger turbines and is currently the subject of a series of public hearings before the zoning hearing board. The next hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.
Judy Dolgos-Kramer contributed to this report
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