GLEN – The concern of residents is mounting to a proposed wind turbine that would be visible across much of the town standing over 600 feet tall as a special use permit application gradually makes its way through the Planning Board.
Borrego Solar is seeking approval to construct a single 4.3 megawatt wind turbine on approximately 5 acres of leased land out of a roughly 191.6 acre parcel located at 411 Reynolds Road. The turbine would be approximately 640 feet tall when the blades reach their highest point.
Project developers submitted slightly updated plans on Thursday that shifted the location of the turbine by roughly 200 feet to shorten the driveway leading to the project site. The change required Borrego to update impact studies related to views, sound and shadow flicker.
“Overall when it comes to a shift of that nature, not a significant change to any of those studies, but they are updated and available,” said David Strong, senior project developer for Borrego.
The turbine would be located more than 1,500 feet from existing homes with a minimum setback from neighboring property lines of 1.1 times the height of the turbine to create a buffer in the unlikely event catastrophic failure causes the device to collapse. The closest boundary line is approximately 723 feet to the north of the project site.
The shift moved the project site closer to the property of Michele and Doug Wadsworth whose home was already singled out last month as the residence that would be most impacted by the project.
“It may be a wooded area, but it’s my family’s playground,” Michele Wadsworth said of the impacted portion of her property.
Despite the proposed distance from neighboring homes, the development team displayed updated renderings showing what the massive device would look like from representative locations around the town.
“This thing is huge,” Michele Wadsworth said. “You’re going to see it from every viewpoint in Glen.”
Meeting the demand from nearby residents outraged last month that images had not been captured from their homes depicting the project’s visual disturbance glimpsed their possible future as Borrego representatives clicked through new images.
“I just purchased a home, it will be on my front porch,” Shelby Wadsworth said.
Another resident dismayed by the new view his home would be subjected to asked if anyone wanted to buy his property. Residents called out that no one would want to buy it if the project moves forward.
Residents were critical of some images that showed the turbine obscured by trees, arguing the device would be in full view from a slightly different angle. Photos displaying a side view of the turbine and its blade at their thinnest were scorned by residents aware of the motorized yaw system present in the devices that turns the turbine blades to face the direction of the wind.
The results of the updated shadow flicker study were another point of contention with residents. The rotation of the turbine blades can cast a shadow causing intermittent changes in light that varies based on distance from the device, weather, location of the sun and time of year.
While there can be intermittent changes in light outdoors from the turbine’s shadow, the shadow flicker phenomenon is more pronounced indoors when the shadow cast by the turbine blade can cause the natural light inside to momentarily fall into shadow before the position changes and the shadow dissipates before repeating.
The original shadow flicker report examined 10 “representative” properties around the project and found that only three would be impacted by the phenomena. The same three properties were singled out again.
The most heavily impacted structure, a barn located on McDuffie Road, is now expected to experience roughly 21 hours and 18 minutes of shadow flicker each year, up from nearly 20 hours a year.
Michele and Doug Wadsworth’s home will remain the most heavily impacted home, but is expected to see the shadow flicker impact reduced to about 10 hours and 47 minutes a year, down roughly an hour and a half from the original location. Another home on Lang Drive is expected to be impacted for less than an hour each year.
Yet, Kenneth Chicoski who lives across the street from Michele and Doug Wadsworth was surprised to see his home was not included on the report. Strong confirmed homes located around the identified “receptors” would likely experience shadow flicker with the phenomena dissipating the further away the property is from the device.
“Why are they called receptors? They’re people’s homes,” Planning Board member Boddy White said of the study.
“There are more homes than on the profile that are affected by this, many more homes,” Michele Wadsworth added.
However, Strong “guaranteed” that shadow flicker would not impact homes more than three or four miles from the turbine. He additionally offered to study the impact from additional locations if requested by the board.
The updated sound report found the change in the turbine location would increase or decrease the sound disturbance at reviewed properties by roughly one decibel. The closest homes would be subject to outdoor sounds of about 40 decibels described as akin to a soft whisper from three feet away. The sound would be softer indoors and would occur during operation in windy conditions likely making it less noticeable, according to developers.
Town Engineer Doug Cole stipulated that the study should be updated to include existing ambient noise levels captured from the sites to establish a baseline for comparison with the noise created by the wind turbine.
Residents were less concerned about the noise of the device than the impacts from low frequency sounds produced by the turbines. White questioned their possible health implications citing a study that suggested impacts could include sleep disturbance, anxiety and cardiovascular symptoms.
Strong countered that roughly “80” peer reviewed studies available on the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority concluded there were no significant health impacts from noise created by wind turbines. White noted that the study he referenced was found on the NYSERDA website.
“You can find anything you want,” Strong replied, indicating there is more evidence to the contrary.
Amidst the negative response from residents, Strong tried to highlight projects benefits, including local tax incentives for the school district and county and a roughly 10% reduction in power costs for residents who subscribe to the community wind project.
The developer will additionally enter a host community benefit agreement with the town after the plans are approved that will likely include some recurring payment to the municipality over the life of the project.
Residents faced with impacts to their individual homes and community at large were unmoved.
“It seems more like us versus them. They’re not providing us any information on negative impacts,” Shelby Wadsworth said.
The only action taken by the Planning Board on Thursday was closing a public hearing that had been held open from last month to receive written comments. Board Secretary Sandra Hemstreet noted that 40 questions were received that will be answered by the board or the developer with responses to be posted on the town website before the next meeting.
The board additionally received a petition signed by over 60 residents in opposition to the project with an unspecified number of additional signatures turned in at the meeting by Michele Wadsworth. She said her ability to collect signatures door-to-door was complicated by the pandemic and that many of the people she spoke with were unaware of the project proposal.
Chicoski said he became aware of the project just two weeks ago, questioning the lack of notification from the town.
“I certainly get my ‘don’t forget to vote’ pamphlet in the mail from the town, I certainly get the fire department newsletter from the town, I’m sure everybody else does, so I figure something of this magnitude, it probably should have gone out to town residents,” Chicoski said. “I feel very uneasy and very untrusting right now.”
Hemstreet attributed the level of outreach to the previous Town Board, while noting the new administration that started on Jan. 1 has indicated its interest in improving communications.
Other complications in sharing information by posting information to the town website are the result of the site currently being updated and maintained by Montgomery County without in-house access, she added.
Although the Planning Board is waiting to receive additional information from Borrego before taking further action, residents questioned the gradual advance of the application.
“I’m categorically opposed to this. I’m not even sure why we’re considering this,” Doug Wadsworth said.
The community wind energy project is an allowed use with a special use permit under town law, meaning the board is bound to consider the project, Hemstreet noted. The application review must advance according to deadlines set by the state or the project could be approved by default without oversight from the Planning Board, she added.
“We’re looking at this because we have to,” Hemstreet said.
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