LOWVILLE – The Deer River Wind Farm was given conditional approval by the state Siting Board in a meeting on Tuesday, adding another 25 turbines to the 286 already built, in the process of being built, and approved but not yet built on the Tug Hill Plateau in Lewis County.
Atlantic Wind, a subsidiary of developer Avangrid Renewables, was granted a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need from the state through the Article 10 review process for its project.
The wind farm will consist of 21 turbines in the town of Pinckney and four turbines in the town of Harrisburg with a transmission interconnection point in Jefferson County in the town of Rodman. Nineteen of the turbines will be about 600 feet tall with the remaining six to stand at about 500 feet.
The turbines will occupy about 150 acres total spread out across about 6,000 acres of privately leased land. It is expected to generate 101 megawatts of power, contributing to the state-wide goal to have 70% of the power generated in the state come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
The certificate was granted with a number of conditions, many of which must be met before construction can begin. The majority of the conditions were included in the recommended decision filed on March 20 by the official examiners of the process, and no other parties involved questioned the rationale.
Some conditions, however, were disputed by the DEC, the Department of Public Service or Atlantic Wind and were ruled on by the Board in this proceeding to be included with the final certificate.
Precedence set in wind projects already approved through the Article 10 process were cited in many of the Siting Board’s decisions.
Atlantic Wind had requested that 12 certificate conditions dealing with streams and fresh water wetlands be revised to match those used in the Bluestone Wind Farm in Broome County. In those conditions, jurisdiction over those bodies of water are described as “state” or regulated, disputing the validity of the DEC’s recommendations on all streams and wetlands.
The Siting Board rejected the company’s opinion, however, because it is within the board’s power to limit activities that might impact any body of water regardless of what authority, state or federal, has jurisdiction. It also upheld conditions disputed by the company that were set to “ensure compliance with state water quality standards.”
The board agreed with the company’s arguments, however, regarding six project design modifications the DEC had flagged as harmful to wetlands, stating that the changes “meet the permit issuance standards and would minimize potential adverse impacts” to the wetlands.
The changes include moving a turbine, relocating collection line poles, access roads built in areas next to wetlands and erecting collection lines over wetland areas.
Turbine sound levels set for the Deer River project follow the standards set for Number Three Wind in the towns of Harrisburg and Lowville approved last year: a 45 decibel limit under certain criteria at residences that do not host turbines or other aspects of the project and 55 decibels for participating residences.
Although the Department of Public Service sought to require Atlantic to measure sound at a 4-meter height with no “uncertainty factor,” or margin, the board agreed with Atlantic Wind that the company should be able to choose whether they measure sound at four meters with no uncertainty factor or at a 1.5-meter height with a two-decibel uncertainty factor.
The use of “noise reduction operations” during the pre-construction “sound modelling” process through which the wind company predicts how much sound turbines will make, will be limited as requested by the Public Service staff. That board decision followed the precedent set in the Canisteo Wind project.
Conditions regarding post-construction sound modelling were also settled by the board. Despite the company’s objection, the Public Service staff will not be limited in which residential locations they can choose for sound monitoring nor will they have to follow the same testing protocols as Atlantic Wind to prove a sound violation.
“It takes fewer measurements to demonstrate a violation than to demonstrate full compliance,” the Siting Board’s certificate decision said.
Atlantic Wind will also have to use a second windscreen, as was also indicated in the conditions for Number Three Wind and Canisteo, because it will “reduce interference of wind noise for low frequency measurements” of sound.
The recommended decision by the examiners would have allowed the wind company to get rid of sound data collected when wind speeds are more than five meters per second at the ground level, but the board agreed with the Public Service staff.
“If all measurements associated with a wind speed above five meters per second were discarded, it would be difficult to obtain valid sound level measurements with the turbines operating at maximum capacity,” the document said.
Also in line with the Public Service staff’s recommendations, an additional 1.5 decibels of sound will be added for residences with more than one story because “turbine noise levels are likely to be higher in the upper stories of a multi-story residence.”
Finally, the board made a hybrid decision between the two perspectives of the wind company and the Public Service staff on sound measurement requirements.
“We specify a protocol that balances the difficulty and cost of obtaining long durations of valid data with the need to recognize the real-world conditions that people will experience.”
The protocol for one measure will require the company to get a minimum of 24 hours of valid data but not from each “receptor,” or residence where the sound is being tested. That 24 hours must be based on between four and eight consecutive one-hour samples from each of six locations.
Public Service staff indicated one of the turbines would have a negative visual impact on the Inman Gulf Trails, accusing the company of using a wide-angle camera lens that made “objects in the same image ‘appear to be further away from the viewer than they would appear to be in normal view.’”
Although the service staff recommended the company move the turbine or eliminate it from the project entirely, the Board upheld the examiners’ opinion that the turbine’s impact on the view from the trails would be “very limited owing to intervening forested vegetation along the trails.”
This isn’t the first time the Inman Gulf Trails have been given special consideration in the Deer River Wind Article 10 process.
In February, anti-corporate wind activist group, the Tug Hill Alliance for Rural Preservation, or THARP, filed a document withdrawing its opposition to the wind farm because of Atlantic’s “willingness to make monetary contributions for trail improvements to the Inman Gulf Trails in the Tug Hill State Forest.”
The group also stated the wind company’s willingness to use Aircraft Detection Lighting Systems if they are approved by the FAA and the Department of Defense as one of the major reasons for their change in stance.
The document additionally stated the wind company had agreed to halt steps to “exclude or otherwise limit the field testimony by THARP or its experts.”
THARP has been receiving “intervenor” funds provided by Atlantic, as is required by the process, to hire independent legal representation and experts to add documents into the official record on behalf of the group to ensure their issues are addressed.
While THARP’s leader and one of its most vociferous members, Rebecca Sheldon and Heath Ash, respectively, were contacted for comment on the group’s decision to settle with Atlantic, neither were able to disclose the details of their agreement with the company.
The group had hired noise consultant Daniel Prusinowski who submitted his sound report on Nov. 1. A month later, Atlantic Wind filed a motion to strike a number of THARP documents from the record including Mr. Prusinowski’s testimony, various property value documents and personal testimony by THARP members.
THARP issued a rebuttal document and Atlantic responded on the record to that rebuttal.
THARP’s withdrawal document said one of its members entered into an agreement separately with Atlantic and became a “participating landowner.” Participating landowners are usually paid for the use of their land in the project. There are members on both town boards who are participating landowners in this project.
It is not clear if Mr. Ash’s testimony being targeted for withdrawal from the record was related to the member who decided to be a paid project participant.
“Other members of THARP declined the opportunity to become participating landowners,” the official document stated.
On Dec. 16, THARP and Deer River Wind entered into a memo of understanding in which THARP agreed to withdraw the testimony of Mr. Heath and its expert, Mr. Prusinowski.
Although the news release on the certificate approval for Deer River Wind spoke of negotiations between the Department of Defense on behalf of Fort Drum to mitigate any potential impacts on the base’s operations, no mention was made of the Aircraft Detection Lighting System the company is allegedly considering as per their understanding with THARP.
Deer River joins the Maple Ridge Wind Farm in the towns of Lowville, Harrisburg and Martinsburg, Copenhagen Wind in the town of Denmark, the nearly-completed Roaring Brook Wind in the town of Martinsburg and the approved, but not yet constructed, Number Three Wind in the towns of Lowville and Harrisburg.
Avangrid Renewables also owns the Maple Ridge and Roaring Brook projects.
Avangrid has 30 days to either ask for a rehearing or accept the certificate.
All documents on the record for Deer River Wind can be found at http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/MatterManagement/CaseMaster.aspx?MatterCaseNo=16-F-0267&submit=Search