Over strong objections by two local members, the New York Siting Board approved a 124-megawatt wind turbine project in eastern Broome County.
In giving the go-ahead, the board also rejected a newly adopted Town of Sanford zoning law that placed severe restrictions on the project, labeling it “overly burdensome.”
The action by the siting board clears the way for Calpine to begin construction of the 27-tower project – four in the Town of Windsor and 23 in the Town of Sanford, measuring 670 feet from base to blade tip.
New York Siting Board Chairman John Rhodes, Public Service Commission chairman, said the project, based on plans, will minimize the environmental impact to the surrounding community. He said the newly adopted Town of Sanford zoning law is effectively a ban, and an undue burden to project sponsors, adding that existing conditions attached to the approval are “thoughtful and protective.”
Two local residents speak out at meeting
Two residents from the towns of Windsor and Sanford, who were asked to participate in the discussions, had a dramatically different view of the project, a major cornerstone in an aggressive state policy to reduce carbon emissions from electric generation.
Barbara Mirch, an ad hoc committee member from Windsor, in impassioned remarks, asked the board to reject the project or at least delay a decision to allow a more extensive review of the impacts on the two communities.
“It’s not appropriate for our area,” Mirch said. “We are being preyed upon” to supply energy for downstate needs.
“This should be a local decision,” said John Mauro, the Sanford representative who was unable to attend Monday’s session, citing health issues.
Mauro’s home community is squarely opposed to the wind towers rising along the forested hillsides, he said in a written statement read during the 40-minute session in Albany.
He called on the panel to seriously consider the critical points residents were raising about the aesthetic, property value and health impacts, in addition to potential harm to threatened bald and golden eagle populations that migrate and nest through the area.
A contingent from the opposition was in attendance at the session, wearing their distinctive yellow T-shirts with the message of no wind farm. While he welcomed the public input, Rhodes said the board would not bend to the wants of special interests, saying the review process was open and transparent with an exhaustive record developed.
He said compromises were reached on bat kill, noise and shadow flicker concerns, and measures are being taken to assure the blade encounters with eagles are minimized.
Board’s decision reflects Cuomo’s clean energy initiative
Monday’s “decision demonstrates how New York is working to achieve Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal – the most aggressive climate and clean energy initiative in the nation, putting the state on a path to being entirely carbon-neutral across all sectors of the economy and establishing a goal to achieve a zero-carbon emissions electricity sector by 2040, faster than any other state,” read a statement from the Public Service Commission.
The 5-1 vote in approval represented a sound rejection to the Town of Sanford’s recent attempt to derail the project – more than three years in the planning – with more restrictive tower setback requirements. A Calpine representative said the new land use regulations for renewable energy projects, which more than doubled property setback requirements from the original law, would have quashed the Bluestone plan.
The siting board was precluded from considering the law’s land use code because the it was only adopted on Dec. 10, well after formal public hearings on the project, said Administrative Law Judge Sean Mullaney, who presided over the quasi-judicial review process.
Mullaney told the board the Bluestone Wind proposal is “consistent with the state energy policies,” and recommended approval.
‘Home rule’ divides communities as N.Y. increases wind energy
It is unclear whether opponents can launch a legal challenge to the siting board’s decision based on New York’s “home rule” provisions, which defines the “rights, powers, privileges and immunities granted to” local governments.
“This is not the last word,” said Anna Lawrence, a leading voice in the Town of Sanford opposition movement. She noted the decision can be appealed within 30 days, but her group must first consult counsel to determine their new move.
“Even through the most contentious and divisive issues facing our communities, it’s government’s role to listen to the people they serve and work together to find a path forward,” said state Sen Fred Akshar, R-Binghamton, who represents the affected communities. “That didn’t happen today. Once again, bureaucrats in Albany chose to steamroll over local laws passed by the people and local governments they serve in favor of their own political agenda.”
Bluestone is the fourth wind turbine project given the green light by the siting board in the past four months, setting up 577 megawatts of renewable generation to come on to the grid within the next several years. Another four upstate wind farms, with a total capacity of 941 megawatts, are now proceeding through the review process.
Bluestone estimates that the project represents an approximately $200 million investment. Once operational, Bluestone says it will pay over $30 million to local landowners over the life of the project through annual lease payments. The project will receive tax breaks in the form of payment-in-lieu of taxes agreements with the municipalities and school districts in which the project is sited.
“Broome County supports the Bluestone Wind project,” said Broome County Executive Jason Garnar. “It would provide a major capital investment in Eastern Broome with hundreds of construction and operation jobs and the significant payments to host landowners will inject new momentum into our local economy. ”
Much like Sanford, other upstate communities have been ripped apart by wind projects, leading to raucous municipal meetings where police have been summoned to maintain the calm.
Mirch was highly critical of the state’s renewable energy review process, saying it sacrificed a thorough and deliberate review for expediency. She noted the eastern Broome project would reduce New York’s carbon emissions by 0.26%.
“We just want to be left alone and lead our lives,” she said, in encouraging siting board members to consider what she said is the overwhelming opposition in eastern Broome.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding