A proposal to build two soaring 640-foot tall wind turbines in the town of Middleburgh has crash-landed after the town board took action this month.
After 10 months of debate and public hearings, the Middleburgh Town Board approved changes to its zoning ordinance on May 12 that will prohibit large-scale wind and solar utility projects.
Borrego Energy, a California-based solar energy company, had discussed constructing the five-megawatt wind project on a hilltop farm four miles east of the village of Middleburgh.
“Borrego wanted to come in. And they wanted to build two of the largest wind turbines in New York State,” said Middleburgh Town Supervisor Wes Laraway in a phone interview May 26. “We had a moratorium to give us time to look at all sides of the story. And then we had several public hearings. And we had over 600 people sign a petition,” he said. “And ultimately, that’s the way the town board voted, is that we didn’t want wind turbines.”
Middleburgh “is a scenic, beautiful place,” said Laraway, and the reason residents came out to oppose the project in such numbers is that didn’t want to lose that. “People were afraid for their property values. They were afraid of noise, they were afraid of flickering. There were there was a dozen different reasons why they didn’t want them.”
According to Don Airey, supervisor for the town of Blenheim and chair of the county board’s Energy Committee, the real issue for residents is the question of home rule. He protested the “unbelievable crassness of not only the wind and solar industries, but of our state legislators, our governor, and, you know, agencies like NYSERDA,” in forcing such developments on rural communities without giving them any say in the matter.
“These kinds of energy projects are located in rural upstate counties, and in many cases, disadvantaged and extremely low income upstate rural communities,” Airey said in a phone interview Friday.
“So what’s the deal? Well, here’s the deal. The state incentivizes solar, industrial, solar and wind development, with taxpayer dollars.”
Both Airey and Laraway said that they support renewable energy projects such as wind and solar, but not at an industrial scale. “I don’t want the perception out there that this is against renewable energy, because that’s the cheap shot that everybody likes to take on that side of the issue,” Airey said.
“We’re disappointed to see how the ordinance impacts the landowners and their farm, and disappointed that the town of Middleburgh won’t be able to see the community benefits from the project,” said Borrego Senior Project Developer David Strong via a public relations spokesperson. “Community wind is not a utility-scale wind farm. Community wind projects, like the project in Middleburgh, provide a variety of benefits to local communities.”
In an email, Strong listed some of the community benefits: local tax revenue for the town, county and school districts, short-term construction and long-term operations and maintenance jobs and locally-sourced clean energy. “In Middleburgh, residents would have automatically seen a 10% discount in their electricity bills,” he wrote.
Airey contested all the arguments that Strong made. When Strong and other developer spokespeople came to town, they did not hear the message that the project was unwanted, he said.
“They want to be a community partner, you know, they want to be your buddy,” he said. They tell residents “we’re going to get you a pool, you know, we’re going to buy you bike helmets or something like that. But here’s what they’re not going to do. They’re not going to pay their fair share of taxes.”
The state incentives mean that a project like Borrego’s wind turbines would pay millions less in local taxes, he said.
“They’re not windmills, not farms, they’re industrial applications,” that don’t belong anywhere near residential areas, he argued. “You don’t see them trying to build these in Westchester County, do you?” he asked.
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