Town of Sanford board members delivered a stinging blow Tuesday night to prospects for a 124-megawatt wind farm in eastern Broome County.
By adopting a new land use law that lengthens and redefines setback requirements for the wind turbines, the project sponsor may have to redesign the project to fit the new regulations, or, more likely, ditch it entirely.
“These new standards mean this project will not proceed,” said Chris Stanton, Calpine Corp. station manager.
Adoption of the new land use law in this heavily forested community that stretches along the Pennsylvania and borders Delaware County to the east culminates a more than year-long effort by project opponents who contended the 23 of 27 turbines to be sited in Sanford would harm property values because of visual blights, result in massive bald eagle and golden eagle kills, and cause serious health impacts.
“People are not going to want to stay here if you don’t protect us,’ said Angela Olson in urging board to adopt more restrictive land use measures.
Many of the more than 60 people attending Tuesday night’s meeting gave the board a standing ovation after the 4-0 vote approving the more restrictive measures. One board member, Alice Ray, abstained from the vote. She had signed a lease with Calpine, the project sponsor, making her ineligible to vote because of a conflict of interest.
State review Monday
Tuesday vote sets up a critical home rule challenge come Monday when the New York Siting Board is scheduled to discuss the so-named Bluestone Wind project after a more than three year regulatory review.
An administrative law judge overseeing the review recommended project approval. It is possible the siting board – made up of four Governor Andrew Cuomo appointees and a representative of the Town of Sanford and the Town of Windsor, which host the project – could determine the new land use law is “overly burdensome” on Calpine and still give the go ahead. The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday.
Potential rejection of a renewable energy installation strikes a blow to Cuomo’s goal to have 100% of New York electric generation from carbon neutral sources by 2040.
For its part, Houston-based Calpine representatives said the the wind farm has been put through a rigorous review process by the New York state Public Service Commission and other state agencies, and the restrictions imposed Tuesday are unnecessary.
“We spent millions of dollars to study the project,” Stanton said. “This project, to the extent possible, will minimize impact.”
Board members listened to 90 minutes of public comment during a hearing without making comment.
Most notable in the land use code changes is a requirement that wind tower setbacks be three times the 670-height of the tower from a landowner without a lease or a “good neighbor” agreement. The new setback requirement more than doubles the standard in the previous regulation and requires the distance to measured from the property line instead of an existing structure.
Property value protection
The new law requires Calpine to perform a property value analysis and offer property owners a proposed means of protecting property value if the turbines result in a deterioration of values.
New standards were also adopted that would require the project sponsor to eliminate or mitigate potential shadows caused by the turbine blades.
In the new law, town planners said revisions were meant to balance “the need to improve energy sustainability through increased use of renewable energy systems with concerns for the preservation of public health, welfare and safety, as well as environmental quality, visual and aesthetic values.”
Based on project design, 23 towers are to be spread across the Town of Sanford, many visible from Route 17, and another four in the Town of Windsor.
Aside from the towers, the project is designed to include access roads to the turbines, along with electric collection lines, a substation, among other facilities to be included in construction.
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