Cohocton Wind Watch: Changes irk wind farm backers
Cohocton Wind Watch is a community citizen organization dedicated to preserve the public safety, property values, economic viability, environmental integrity and quality of life in Cohocton, NY and in surrounding townships. Neighbors committed to public service in order to achieve a reasonable vision for a Finger Lakes region worthy of future generations.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Changes irk wind farm backers

DEPAUVILLE — Vocal opposition to changing a wind power development zoning law in Clayton and Orleans has begun to solidify.

Those who support the proposed Horse Creek Wind Farm, including many leaseholders, have balked at the changes that, according to developer Iberdrola Renewables, would eliminate the project. Iberdrola's 126-megawatt project would raise 56 turbines in Clayton and eight in Orleans.

Kevin J. Forkey, who has risen to de facto leadership in the past few weeks in Clayton, lives at and owns Forkey Auto Sales on Route 12. Under the Horse Creek plan, he would have three turbines on his property.

"There is scientific data to support wind farms," he said. "The question is why a committee came up with new recommendations to supersede our zoning law."

Clayton's Town Council accepted nearly all of the 10-member committee's recommendations Aug. 26, sending them to the town's attorney to be drafted into a proposed law. Supervisor Justin A. Taylor told the public then that the council would wait to take action until recommendations for personal wind towers and other renewable energy devices were forwarded from another committee.

Under the wind farm recommendations, the setbacks from roads and nonparticipating residents' property lines would be 31/2 times the height of the turbines, which Iberdrola said will be about 400 feet.

The committee collected studies and research to back up its recommendations, but Mr. Forkey said the setbacks are overly conservative. He cited a study done by Marc P. LeBlanc of Garrad Hassan Canada, Ottawa, for the Canadian Wind Energy Association, called "Recommendations for Risk Assessments of Ice Throw and Blade Failure in Ontario."

Addressing some safety concerns regarding ice on the spinning blades, the study found that a chunk of ice being thrown from a turbine and hitting a person inside a small house almost 1,000 feet away is likely to happen no more than once in 500,000 years. And a chunk of ice being thrown from a turbine and hitting one of 100 cars traveling on a road more than 600 feet away during the right atmospheric conditions is likely to happen no more than once every 260,000 years.

"I compare it to traveling along the highway at 55 miles per hour," Mr. Forkey said. "Highways allow commerce and movement at an acceptable risk. If we were to lower the speed limit to 15 mph, we would be safer, but we would have given everything up for that safety."

And, since the setbacks from participating residents' dwellings are set at 21/2 times the height of the turbine, he said, the safety of a leaseholder and a nonparticipating neighbor are being given different weight.

"If we're basing it on height, why is my setback 21/2 times the height, but they're saying that's not safe?" he said. "Is my life worth less than his?"

Mr. Forkey said he knows many leaseholders are part of the project because of the money, but said that's not his motivation.

"My inspiration here is a legacy to leave behind," he said.

He said that goal started with planting more than 80,000 trees on his property, which used to be a dairy farm.

"Given our alternatives, I feel this is the best path to go down," he said. "It's better than a coal plant or a nuclear plant."

Mr. Forkey said he plans to give his lease payments to the town and Thousand Islands Central School District.

He said public opinion supports wind farms in communities where they have been built. Mr. Forkey cited a survey of Lewis County residents by the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College.

In 2008, 79 percent of residents who took part in the survey supported wind farm expansion, up slightly from 77 percent in 2007. Overall, 70.7 percent of respondents said they felt Maple Ridge Wind Farm has had a positive impact on the county, 19.4 percent said it had no impact and 5.8 percent said it had a negative impact.

That should be a sign, Mr. Forkey said, that Iberdrola, which developed Maple Ridge, is a responsible developer and Horse Creek won't have the noise, health or safety issues that have been asserted by its critics.

Iberdrola spokeswoman Jan Johnson said the company will use Maple Ridge as the example of responsible development when asking town officials not to adopt the new, tougher regulations in Clayton. The zoning law currently in place in Clayton would allow development much as it was done in Martinsburg, Lowville and Harrisburg for Maple Ridge.

"We look forward to presenting the success of the project in Maple Ridge," she said. "It's the actual experience of development in New York."

According to maps from Iberdrola, the proposed road setbacks of 31/2 times the height of the turbine being considered by Clayton would force them to eliminate 37 of the proposed 62 turbines. And the setbacks from nonparticipating residents' property lines of 31/2 times the height of the turbine proposed in Clayton would eliminate all but three.

Clayton and Orleans are considering similar noise standards, which would allow sound from turbines to be only five decibels louder than ambient noise, both in the audible and low-frequency noise ranges. The current regulations allow for up to 50 decibels of noise at residences, but critics say that is dangerously loud when compared to nighttime ambient levels in the 24 to 28 decibel range.

Orleans is also considering more stringent setbacks. The setbacks would be the greater of 3,000 feet or 10 times the turbine's rotor diameter from nonparticipating residents' property lines and roads.

In both towns that are part of the proposed project, the leaseholders and other supporters are beginning to take action.

In Orleans, the landowners turned in a petition with about 100 signatures Wednesday night after the Town Council talked with the committee about the recommendations there.

Mr. Forkey said in Clayton, he's part of a drive to collect signatures from 20 percent of the landowners for what's called a zoning law protest petition. Under state law, if a petition contains the signatures of the owners of 20 percent of the land affected by the proposed zoning change, the change must be passed by a supermajority of the council — in Clayton's case that means four of five members.

In the past, most of the recommendations from the wind committee were accepted unanimously by the Clayton Town Council.

Mr. Forkey said many leaseholders, including himself, saw early support from the town government for the project and thought it was a lock to go in. But after the council accepted the wind committee's recommendations, Horse Creek supporters fear the project will slip away.

"The past is not ours to recover," he said. "The future is ours to win or lose."


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