Rarely has there been this much interest in a Town of Guilford land use plan.
But now residents are ever more watchful. So much so that more than 80 residents piled into the town hall meeting room on Wednesday night to hear town board members mull updates on a comprehensive plan for this rural Chenango County community.
Four rows of chairs were filled. Other spectators sat shoulder to shoulder, perched on tables in the rear of the cozy setting, and those who didn’t arrive early enough to grab a seat lined the sides of the meeting room.
Clearly, this was not your ordinary town board meeting to discuss the often tedious details of zoning.
What brought the crowd to this meeting was a plan by Calpine Corp.’s to build a 100-megawatt, 30-turbine industrial wind power installation within this town of 3,000 people about eight miles northwest of Sidney. A 100-megawatt project supplies enough electricity to power about 36,000 homes.
The preliminary scoping plan was submitted by the Houston-based energy company in late January. Early details of the project mirror a 27-turbine, 123-megawatt wind power installation by the same sponsor in the eastern Broome County towns of Windsor and Sanford. That project is well ahead of the Guilford plan, with the state expected to rule on construction by the end of the year.
New York has more then 20 large-scale solar and wind projects across the state under some form of regulatory review. The run to build renewable power installations has been fueled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal to have 70% of the state’s electric demand – about 32,000 gigawatts at the summer peak – generated by carbon-neutral sources by 2030. The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority provides financial incentives to sponsor, but the amounts to specific projects are not disclosed by the state, citing proprietary corporate information as reason for exemption from release.
When updated, the Guilford comprehensive plan will serve as a guide for the state panel reviewing the Calpine project. Ultimately, the state electric generation siting board – composed of Cuomo-appointed state commissioners – has final say on all energy generation project larger than 25 megawatts.
The comprehensive plan updates now under consideration will address recommended setbacks and allowable heights among other restrictions for commercial wind and solar installations.
On Wednesday night, a large contingent of residents expressed concern about the visual impact from the projected 650-foot high turbines, and the possible shadow effects and noise from the turning blades.
Bill Pratt, a longtime Guilford resident, said the town board should be wary of Calpine’s “pie-in-the-sky” promises.
“What is this project going to bring to Guilford long term?” Pratt said.
Some residents attending the Wednesday board session were clearly vexed by the project’s potential impact on property values,
While they urged the board to recommend turbine towers not exceeding 375 feet, the board told its attorney the comprehensive plan should place a 675-foot limit on the turbine height.
Portions of New York had long been considered poor sites for wind power installations, but technical advances, including increases in turbine heights and blade lengths, have made it more practical to place these green energy projects in areas previously written off.
Guilford was selected because it is in close proximity to a 115-kilovolt New York State Electric & Gas Corp. electric transmission line that will serve as the wind farm connection point to the grid.
Among those supporting the project was a contingent of union laborers who argued that the construction jobs were needed to keep its members employed. After installation, however, the wind farm can be managed by a handful of people.
“I would much rather look at a wind turbine than neglected property,” said Bob Fleming, town highway supervisor. “We don’t have a whole lot going for use in Guilford.”
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