An attempt to derail an eastern Broome County wind farm failed Thursday when the state’s Electric Generation Siting Board rejected an appeal from opponents.
Meeting through electronic means because of the coronavirus outbreak, by a 5-2 vote, the board dismissed claims by detractors that the project would harm a fragile rural environment. The board gave Calpine Inc. the green light to proceed with the 27-turbine project, known as Bluestone Wind, that received the initial go-ahead earlier this year.
“The project was properly approved and sited,” said John Rhodes, siting board chairman and state Public Service Commission chief.
Significantly, the two representatives voting for reconsideration of the application were ad hoc members, one from Windsor and the other from Sanford.
Both said the siting board failed to give adequate consideration to community sentiment that was highly critical of the project based on several criteria, including aesthetics and health concerns.
“I don’t believe the community was listened to,” John Mauro, the Sanford representative, said at the close of the 15-minute teleconference.
The five members rejecting the appeal were Rhodes and stand-ins for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s agency directors.
Three petitions submitted to the state requested reconsideration of the the project based on issues ranging from the sponsor’s failure to adequately inform the public about the installation, to concerns about the impact of turbine blades on golden eagle and bald eagle habitats in the affected area.
Opponents alleged the community was purposely kept in the dark in the project’s infancy to limit a lively public exchange on the drawbacks. Further, opponents alleged several defects in the turbine construction plan, and object to the failure to adequately consider a Town of Sanford land use law imposing more severe restrictions than originally adopted.
“These supersized turbines belong miles out at sea, or in industrial zones and brown fields – as suggested in the newly adopted statewide siting law – not right near homes of ordinary folk, or involving cutting down natural forests and destroying wetlands,” said Ann Lawrence, who has been leading the opposition. “Bluestone Wind is an illustration of green energy objectives gone wrong, a situation that will hopefully be prevented going forward with better statewide standards for siting wind or solar projects.
Though the Town of Sanford adopted a more restrictive and use law in late fall 2019 that would effectively quashed the project, it could not be considered by siting board because it was adopted well past the deadline for evidence submission, project sponsors contended. Also, the new rules that placed more prohibitive limits on setbacks and noise were found to be “unduly burdensome” by the administrative judge administering the project review.
Bluestone was the fourth wind turbine project given the green light by the siting board since the summer, 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.
Calpine 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.
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. Some of the largest turbines could measure 670 feet in height from base to top of the blade tip. Bluestone Turbines will produce up to 124-megawatt of electricity, enough juice to supply about 100,000 residences depending on demand.
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.
Across upstate New York, wind turbines, some as tall as a 65-story building from base to top of blade tip, will rise along the hillsides of these predominantly rural locales.
The buildout will assist New York in achieving its ambitious goal of 70% of the state’s electric generation from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% by 2040.
The ultimate objective: an 85% reduction in carbon emissions from electric generation within the next 20 years.
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